Enforcing the rules

Ruth Haag
Aug 6, 2013

 

Code Enforcement

No one likes to find out that they have done something wrong, and most people become angry with the message bearer. In my column from a few weeks ago titled “Do you have to follow all of the rules?” I maintained that there are simply too many rules in existence for all of us to be able to follow all of them all of the time.

Speaking of rules, the City of Sandusky has a building code. When someone has conditions in their building that are not up to this code, the city can ask them to fix the problem. Imagine being the person who has to bear this message! As in the old joke: “Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help you.” Most of us who have done any sort of building or rehab project in Sandusky have stories about the building code and our frustrations with it.

Why have a building code?

The primary reason for the building code, says Fire Chief Paul Ricci, is safety. Earlier this year the supervision of code enforcement was shifted from the City of Sandusky Engineering Department to Fire Chief Ricci. I sat down with Chief Ricci to talk about this new responsibility of his.

Chief Ricci explained that there are two types of code violations that most often come to his attention: Those that are nuisances, and those dealing with property maintenance.

Nuisances

Tall grass, weeds, trash in the yard, abandoned tires, and abandoned vehicles are examples of nuisances. The city is divided into five zones, and each zone is inspected for nuisances on rotation. Nuisance violations are observed from outside the property. If a nuisance violation is found, a notice will be posted on the property and a letter will be sent to the property owner giving them a period of time to answer or abate the problem. Chief Ricci explained that the goal is to achieve voluntary compliance.

Trash and abandoned vehicles are pretty easy to understand. Tall grass is defined as that which is over 8 inches in height.

If the property owner does not clear up the problem, then the city can hire someone to deal with it. This year, instead of city workers cutting tall grass, the city has contracted with Goodwill Industries for that service. The property owner is then charged for the clean-up.

Property maintenance

The property maintenance violations procedure begins when the city receives a formal written, signed complaint. This complaint is normally from either a tenant or an adjacent neighbor. A city inspector then goes to the property to validate the complaint. The inspector asks permission to enter the property. If they can’t find anyone there, or if they do not obtain permission to enter, then they look from the outside of the building. If they feel that it is necessary to enter, they can get a court order to allow them access.

If conditions are bad enough, the code inspector can require that anyone living there vacate the property and they can even order demolition.

Chief Ricci says that most code violations the city deals with are with rental property, but the code does apply to owner-occupied property also.

If the property owner does not agree with the decision of the code inspector, they can appeal to the Housing Appeals Board. If they do not agree with the decision of the Housing Appeals Board, they can appeal in court.

Nuisances are addressed in Part 5 of the Codified Ordinances of the City of Sandusky. The building code is Part 13. According to Chief Ricci, the most frequent code violations are (in no particular order):

Peeling paint

Roofs (shingles, etc.)

Siding/fascia/overhangs missing -

Part 13 Chapter 1341.13 (4) All exterior surfaces of buildings on a premises shall be clean and maintained in good repair so as to provide sufficient covering and protection of the structural surface underneath against deterioration, with paint, stucco, aluminum, vinyl siding or other approved exterior grade waterproofing materials, applied in an approved manner, and of a uniform color and appearance to match or complement the other structural surfaces on the premises. Without limiting the generality of this section, an exterior surface of a building shall be deemed to be out of repair if the surface is blistered, cracked, flaked, scaled, or chalked away, or is loose or has fallen.

Trash/rubbish -

Part 13 Chapter 1341.15 Every occupant of a dwelling or dwelling unit shall dispose of all his garbage, rubbish, and any other organic waste which might provide food for rodents, in a clean and sanitary manner, by placing it in the garbage or rubbish disposal facilities or garbage storage containers required by Section 1341.11(f) of this Chapter.  It shall be the responsibility of the owner to supply the facilities or containers for all dwelling units in a dwelling containing more than two dwelling units and for all dwelling units located on premises where more than two dwelling units share the same premises.  In all other cases, it shall be the responsibility of the occupant to furnish the facilities or containers

Weeds/grass -

Part 5 Chapter 531.07  (a) No person, whether as owner or occupant, or any other person, firm, or corporation, whether lessee, agent or tenant, having the charge or care of any lot or land within the City of Sandusky shall permit noxious weeds or grass that are about to spread or mature seeds to grow thereon to a height of 8 inches or more and shall cut down and remove from the lot or land all noxious weeds and grass of a height of 8 inches or more which constitute an immediate threat to the public health, safety, and welfare

Gutters/downspouts/water run-off

Part 13 Chapter 1341.13 All downspouts and gutters shall be properly installed in an approved manner and kept in sound working condition and good repair. Chapter 1335 (2) Downspouts may discharge onto splash blocks or into other devices provided that no excess water will flow onto adjoining property

Junk vehicles

Part 5 Chapter 531.15 No person in charge or in control of any property within the City, whether as owner, tenant, occupant, lessee or otherwise, shall park, store, leave, or permit the parking or storing of any motor vehicle or any vehicle in a wrecked, junked, partially dismantled, unlicensed, inoperative or abandoned condition, whether attended or not, for a period in excess of five calendar days upon any private property in the City, unless the same is completely enclosed within a building, or unless it is in connection with a business enterprise operated in a lawful place and manner and licensed as such, when necessary to the operation of such business enterprise or is a collector’s vehicle pursuant to Ohio R.C.  4501.01(F).

Electrical or plumbing not up to code – Part 13 Chapter 1349 Electrical code. Part 13 Chapter 1353 Plumbing code.•

Screens/storm doors -

Part 13 Chapter 1341.12 During that portion of each year when protection is necessary against mosquitoes, flies, or other insects, all doorways opening directly from a dwelling unit to outdoor space shall be supplied with screens and self-closing devices, and all windows or other devices with openings to outdoor space, used, intended to be used or designed to be used for ventilation, shall also be supplied with screens.

In addition to safety, the code helps with crime prevention

While the primary reason for adherence to the code is safety, an additional benefit to code compliance has been documented as one of the strategies of the urban planning concept called CPTED, or Crime Prevention through Environmental Design. This principal states that crime is attracted to areas where buildings are abandoned or not taken care of. This strategy is also referred to as the “broken window theory.” By this theory, if things look well cared for, crime drops.

A note to commentators

The whole time I worked on this column I envisioned the commentators and what their most likely comments were going to be …. I could only envision vindictive-attacking-their-neighbor or attacking-the-city comments. What do you think, can we start a useful dialog about the code and its uses or should we just do the usual stuff?

Comments

Stop It

Are you seriously looking for trouble, Ruth?

MrSandusky

Thank you for actually sitting down with a city official and discussing this instead of just lobbing jabs at them like other bloggers.

To be honest, I have never looked at these codes. Is the complete list available online?

Darkhorse

This was a very informative article. The best thing that ever happened to code enforcement was Chief Ricci. I know he has his hands full with this department, but if anyone can get it organized, he can get the job done. Landlords watch out because he shows no mercy. Most of the time, you can spot a rental property by the condition it is in. Most of the landlords do not keep up with their property.

Nemesis

Interesting how the purpose given is safety, then follows an explanation of the code itself which has no relation to safety.

Ruth, it speaks volumes about your outlook that you classify the desire to be free to be left alone by the mandarins of government as "vindictive."