This Bucket's Got a Hole In It & I Can't Swim!! (Part 1)
Near the end of last night's NA Common Council Meeting council president Jeff Gahan mentioned a plethora of items to be discussed at a workshop to be held just prior to the August 4th session of this group.
Included in the list was something that has been termed as "Concentrated Code Enforcement". As you may or may not recall there was some $30K of CBGD money approved earlier in the year by this Council to hire an inspector to serve under said moniker. Now I'm hearing that at a recent Redevelopement Commission meeting one or more members of this same Council took issue with those monies being used for that purpose.
Personally, I'm getting dizzy watching this merry-go-round. In addition, for this taxpaying voter it's a moot issue anyway. I've more than a few reasons for saying so and I'll try to expound on them here.
The term "Concentrated Code Enforcement" certainly does sound like a vicious beast with large canine teeth. As it has been presented thus far it is merely a declawed pussy cat. There needs be codes to enforce, fines to levy, and the willingness to follow thru with prosecution of offenders prior to any of the rehtoric meaning anything. Unfortunately unless someone waved a magic wand while I slept, New Albany is severly lacking in all three of these areas.
Again let me say before anyone goes off the deep end of the canyon that I'm not being critical of Pam Badger's efforts or her resolve. Since taking this position she has done and is continuing to do an exemplary job within the scope of her authority. Therein lies the crux of the matter..
Her only real authority is to issue citations for basically asthetic issues (excessive yard waste, vehicles sitting up on concrete blocks, garbage bags that didn't make it to the alley, screen doors hanging by one hinge, etc..) surrounding the exterior of a given piece of property and turn them over to the Building Commissioner or City Law Department for further action if the occupants of said property fail to comply with her directives. Some do, most don't and her only choice is to write yet another ticket & turn it in.
She has no authority to enter a home to inspect for rodents, bare wires, raw sewage (in or under), toxic fumes, or any other such health/safety hazards. As it turns out, being as rental property is viewed as a private family dwelling as opposed to a legitmate regulated business, neither does anyone else hereabouts.
The Fire Marshall can't (or won't) for fear of individual rights complaints. He or his local designee may however enter the property after the house burns down and the inhabitants are removed in body bags if arson is suspected.
The Health Department can't (or won't) for much the same reasons and historically the city Building Commissioner's office has followed suit.
The tenants are reluctant to file a complaint for fear of loosing their home or worse. And yes Wilbur, for some of these folks there are worse things than rats, carbon monoxide fumes, and the sweet aroma of human excrement wafting up thru the floorboards.
Sad as it is in some areas of our fair city the law abiding citizen is even reluctant to shine light on these eyesores for fear of their own property and safety.
As one might imagine the result is one hell of a stack of yellow copies somewhere in the Ron Hartman's and the City Attorney's office space gathering dust. I could go on ad infinitum (and probably will before this thing is settled) but in the interest of retaining my readers attention, I'll skip to the core stuff.
The foundation of a municipalities efforts to enforce it's codes contains at least these elements. First of all the framework of code(s) must be in place and for this discussion that cornerstone would be a building code. The current New Albany Building Code was adopted in 1969. There are some sections of it that have been updated since then but based on what I've read of other second class cities of our size around Indiana and other states as well, the body of the work has some catching up to do.
There was an attempt to do so a few short years ago by the Building Commission but when presented to the Common Council seated at the time the folks who brought it forward were told to go play in their own sandbox and let the big boys have the ball field. "It's our job to draft & pass legislation!" was heard ringing loudly off the hallowed walls of the council chamber. (I wonder if we should consider an exorcism for that room on the third floor. Either it is haunted by spirits of the past, or there is a contagion in the air that affects any entering for those very words seem to ring repeatedly from within any time a recommendation comes from without!) At any rate immediately following that proclamation the proposed ordinace was summarily tabled and stuffed into a file folder in the city clerks office and has never seen the offcial light of day since.
That is until now. I recently obtained a copy and submited it along with volumns of other research on the subjects of building codes, rental property controls, building & property inspections, tenants rights, treating rental property as a business, landlord identification and the like. It will be interesting to see what this council does with it.
This discussion is way too involved for one setting so for now I'll stop typing, let it soak and return with more at a later date.
I'll leave you with a link to New Albany's Building code for your bed side reading. Oh, and there will be a pop quiz later!
And by the by I submitted copies of this same research to the administration earlier in the year as well.