Active code enforcement is the key to affordable housing and economic development, but to have any positive impact, the current code enforcement model needs an overhaul. Here are just a few reasons why…
New Code Enforcement Model: 3 Compelling Forces Behind Overhaul
In under four years, St. Petersburg, Florida has been able to reduce the number of vacant homes in the area by 75%. The cost of the initiative was $750,000 paid by the city. The revenue generated by the initiative was $2.1 million collected in the form of liens or auction assessments.
How was this possible?
The city takes ownership of houses that are in foreclosure and they either sell them at auction, or sell them to nonprofit affordable housing developers for $4,000. The foreclosed homes are then renovated and the land that is vacant is dedicated to the development of affordable housing.
What Compelled The Change?
There are three forces that compel change in the code enforcement model, they are legal, communal, and governmental.
1. The Legal Case for Active Code Enforcement
The current system of code enforcement requires the identification of violations in code and following up on those violations. A lien may then be placed on the property. A lien is a judgement. This means that in order to be enforced, the legal system must get involved. This doesn’t just require time and the resources of an already overwhelmed court system, it also requires money.
So, without change, the current code enforcement system is costing professionals time and money and ultimately, they wind up with an unusable inventory of homes that have liens against them and – many times – offenders who are unwilling to rectify code violations.
This situation is a losing one for everyone involved.
2. The Case For the Larger Community
It isn’t just the legal system that suffers under the current code enforcement model, the community suffers too.
Homeowners want to take pride in their property and their neighborhood. It is difficult to take pride in these things when there is a run down home in the area that has multiple code violations.
When these homeowners ask how they can help to improve their neighborhood, they are told to report the code violations. When those code violation complaints are made, though, what happens next?
Inspectors inform the violating homeowner that they have X amount of time to correct the problem. If that amount of time passes, a hearing is then held. The hearing board then hands down a ruling and the violating homeowner is notified of this ruling. If the board issues a fine and the homeowner does not pay that fine, it can be recorded in the public records and it becomes a lien against the land.
During this time, the violating homeowner is making no changes to the property and community residents become distrustful of the local authorities for the lack of responsiveness.
Add to this the number of foreclosed homes and vacant lots that taxpayers must pay for the maintenance on…someone is getting a pretty raw deal.
3. The Case For the Code Department
Then there is the code department. The code department who took action – the only action available to them – an action that resulted in inaction. This department now holds no merit with the community and is seen as one that does not care about the community in the least.
So now there is a board that has carried out it’s job, yet still has to deal with an endless cycle of non-compliance from troublesome homeowners who violate code – a board that is a joke to the community that depends on them because as far as the community is concerned, the board has done nothing to change the situation.
I know that I certainly wouldn’t want to work in such a thankless job. Morale couldn’t possibly be any lower.
So, What Does the New Code Enforcement Model Bring to the Table?
If you scroll back to the top of the page and re-read the example of St. Petersburg’s initiative, you can see how beneficial reform would be for everyone involved.
Less money is being spent on legal processes and chasing down property owners who owe fines, yet don’t pay.
Court systems are not being bogged down by excessive paperwork and can focus on the more important matters at hand – like education!
The larger community benefits from a more aesthetically pleasing neighborhood AND they no longer have to worry about repeat code violators living in their neighborhood.
The individuals in the community no longer distrust the authorities who are charged with keeping the peace and helping citizens to maintain quality of life.
The code department is no longer looked upon as a joke by the community and consequently, have more drive to make communities a better place and to listen to residents.
Are there likely to be some wrinkles in the process of change? When isn’t there? But looking at the example of St. Petersburg, there is more good that can come from a new code enforcement model than is coming from the existing one.
Do You Support a New Code Enforcement Model?
Are you in support of a new code enforcement model? Why or why not? Leave a comment below and share how you feel about code enforcement and whether you think a new code enforcement model could benefit your community.
Having Trouble with Code Enforcement? If you need to discuss problems relating to code enforcement and you live in Florida, Weidner Law can help!