Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This Bucket's Got a Hole In It & I Can't Swim (Part 3)

In the ongoing conversation concerning rental housing, code enforcement, neighborhood property values, and health & safety issues I think now is the time to explore requirements are currently in place and the why, when & who of enforcing them (or not).

Under Title IX; General Regulations of the City of New Albany Code of Ordinances ----------------------------------,$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:newalbany_in

We find what should be the control mechanisms for many of our ongoing rental property offenses such as abandoned vehicles, stray animals, Hazmat,
Fire prevention, noise control, nuisance, etc.

So let’s look a few of these and try to find some answers as to why these problems still exist.

Fire prevention is a good place to start as it is a constant concern of mine. With the close proximity of homes in many of our older neighborhoods recent history has proven that if one home catches fire and is not reported immediately, that fire is going to spread to at least one other home adjacent to it.

(A) The Fire Prevention Code shall be enforced by the Bureau of Fire Prevention in the Fire Department of the city, which is established and which shall be operated under the supervision of the Chief of the Fire Department.
(E) The Bureau of Fire Prevention shall investigate the causes of fires within the limits of the city and make such reports as it deems advisable to the Chief of the Fire Department. The Bureau shall also issue a written notice to persons suspected of violating the provisions of this chapter, and give a copy of such notice to the City Attorney for appropriate action in the city court.

Question; Does this bureau exists and is it currently active?

Subject to the exceptions and conditions for compliance as stated herein, six months after the effective date of this subchapter, smoke detectors shall be required in all dwellings rented for occupancy. Dwellings meeting the State Uniform Building Code fire detection standards shall not be required to install smoke detectors.
('71 Code, §155.31) (Ord. G-81-888, passed 4-6-81)

(A) The owner of a dwelling shall be responsible for supplying and installing in an operable condition the required detectors and for providing the manufacturer's maintenance and testing instructions to a tenant when appropriate. The owner of a dwelling shall be responsible for maintenance and testing of detectors, in accordance with manufacturer's instructions, which are located in common areas or detectors in dwelling units or rooming units where the occupancy of any one tenant is for less than one month.
(B) The tenant in any occupancy of one month or more shall be responsible for maintaining and testing the detector, in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, which are within his exclusive control during the life of the tenancy. The tenant shall be responsible for notifying the owner in writing by registered mail when a detector becomes inoperable, whereafter the owner has ten days in which to repair or replace in operable condition the detector. In the battery operated type of detector, battery replacement shall be the responsibility of the tenant. At every change of tenancy, where the occupancy of any one tenant is of one month or more, it shall be the duty of the owner to test and ascertain that those detectors contained in the unit are in operable condition, and if not, the owner shall be responsible for placing them in operable condition.
('71 Code, §155.33) (Ord. G-81-888, passed 4-6-81)

The Fire Prevention Bureau of the city shall be primarily responsible for the enforcement of this subchapter. The Building Inspector shall assist the Bureau of Fire Prevention by making referrals to the Bureau as part of its regular inspection and enforcement of all city housing, building, and safety codes.
('71 Code, §155.34) (Ord. G-81-888, passed 4-6-81)

In any case where a provision of this subchapter is found to be in conflict with a provision of any fire or safety code of the city, the provision which establishes the higher standard for the promotion and protection of health and safety shall prevail.
('71 Code, §155.35) (Ord. G-81-888, passed 4-6-81)

§ 94.99 PENALTY.
(A) Any person who violates any of the provisions of the code hereby adopted or fails to comply therewith, or who violates or fails to comply with any order made thereunder, or who builds in violation of any detailed statement of specifications or plans submitted and approved thereunder, or any certificate or permit issued thereunder, and from which no appeal has been taken, or who fails to comply with an order as affirmed or modified by the Board of Public Works and Safety or by a court of competent jurisdiction within the time fixed herein, shall severally for each and every violation and noncompliance respectively, be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than $5 nor more than $100. The imposition of one penalty for any violation does not excuse the violation or permit it to continue. Such persons shall be required to correct or remedy the violations or defects within a reasonable time, and when not otherwise specified, each ten days that prohibited conditions are maintained shall constitute a separate offense.
(B) The application of the above penalty shall not be held to prevent the enforced removal of prohibited conditions.
('71 Code, §155.99) (Ord. G-65-232, passed 11-1-65; Am. Ord. G-81-888, passed 4-6-81)

Question; Are the smoke detector ordinances being currently enforced by this bureau?

Indiana Code Title 32 Article 31 deals with landlord/ tenant issues;

Is there any mechanism in place at the city level to enforce or follow up on these issues? If so who? If not, why not?

In the conversations I’ve had with those folks related to both the fire department and the health department, I’ve been left with the impression that if we’re talking about a commercial enterprise or a public place, they can both intervene at will without notice.

However, when it comes to a private residence, they are reluctant to do so for fear of individual rights violations being levied against them.

So here are the follow-up questions;

Are we as a city content with not having preventative measures in place but rather condone waiting for property and innocent lives being endangered or lost before taking action?

Is not renting homes as living spaces just as much of a commercial enterprise as renting lawn mowing equipment, hospital beds, or automobiles?

And if that be true, should it not be regulated as such?

As detailed in my previous postings on the subject, other cities all over this state have done so successfully.

Why is it that New Albany feels it is somehow unique and immune from serving its citizens best interests?

Alas I feel the answer is as has always been. Greed and personal ambition. Follow the money!!

Labels; American legal Publishing Corp & Access Indiana website

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This Bucket's Got a Hole In It & I Can't Swim (Part 2)

After bringing the building code up to date, which once again is the cornerstone of a city’s ability to ensure a safe and healthy building & housing environment for its’ citizens, the next logical step is to guarantee that it stays that way by providing the mechanism, manpower, & resources to enforce that code.

As was discussed in my previous post, effective code enforcement goes far beyond policing the exterior of a structure.

Although it is not always the case, most owner occupied homes are a source of pride to those who reside in them. They to the best of their ability at least attempt to maintain the structure both inside and out as it is more often than not, the biggest investment in their lives.

In New Albany the majority of the problem homes are not owner occupied. They are a part of the 40% + rental property scattered throughout the city. And just as the neglected owner occupied homes are a minority of the total, those that are rental property are the majority of the total of neglected/abandoned homes in our neighborhoods both exterior and interior.

This dilemma is not unique to New Albany however. All one has to do is Google in “Rental Property Code Enforcement in Indiana” and you will be treated to page after page after page of links to cities & towns all around the state that have recognized the problem and have taken steps to deal effectively with it.

Here are but a few;
( See Section 15.150.012 Illegal Use of Property & Section 15.150.176 Property Maintenance)

As you can see we are not the only city in our state that has these issues. The only thing that seems to isolate us is our local government’s unwillingness to risk offending the offenders.

Our history over the past 30 years or so would indicate that this is a reoccurring theme for New Albany/Floyd County. One could almost make a case for the assumption that a sterile bandage lobby was headquartered in our midst as we surely lead the nation in municipalities that are prone to place a Band Aid ® on a bleeding artery regardless of the need to do otherwise.

We need to catch up to the 21st century by admitting to ourselves that rental property is a business just as a gas station, grocery store, or repair shop is and that it needs to be regulated as such.

The city’s Code Enforcement personnel needs to have access to a data base which will identify rental property versus abandoned property versus owner occupied property. That same data base needs to include the name & address of the property owner as well as that of a local contact person in the event the owner lives out of state.

Unfortunately such a data base does not currently exist. There are bits and pieces of said information scattered about like fall leaves blowing in the wind but that makes the officer’s job nearly impossible to do much less do so effectively. And all this in an atmosphere of an Administration’s constant mantra about being understaffed, underfunded & a Common Council’s
majority table banging about tax dollars being wasted.

Many cities around us have figured out that clean, up to date infrastructure coupled with clean, safe housing in inviting neighborhoods draw folks to invest in them thus enlarging the tax base.

The result is more tax dollars in the coiffures to offer more & better services to their citizens thus encouraging even more business investment, more homeownership and more tax dollars.

But alas, we seem to be content to remain what is hurriedly becoming, according to our local law enforcement a leading safe haven for illegal drug marketing, child molesting, and petty theft in large part because we have an abundant supply of affordable run down properties these folks can rent from owners or their agents with no questions asked.

And if those should fall into short supply, there are plenty of abandoned structures for them to move into without fear of reprisal.

All this in a once proud city which will in a few short years celebrate its 200th birthday.

All this because some of our elected officials are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs.

Still more to come!

Friday, July 18, 2008

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!$fn=document-frame.htm$3.0

And by the by I submitted copies of this same research to the administration earlier in the year as well.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Exceptions Anyone???

My question to you is if we start down the slippery slope of “exceptions” where do we stop? The one thing that makes this great country unique among nations is that we, via the Constitution of these United States have agreed and committed to live by a rule of law. We’ve also taken solace in the fact that no man was, is, nor will (unless we the people choose to allow it) be above the law!

“We the People” can make that choice in one of two ways. We can do it by taking action (voting for it to be so) or by inaction (standing idly by and watching our legislators make decisions that may or may not be what is best for us “as a whole” community/nation!)

Now as that concept applies to the discussion we’re having here. The Common Council’s requirement to realign our voting districts following every 10 year Federal Census is a rule of both Indiana State Law and the aforementioned Constitution.

The second fact of the matter that is not being heard is that the odds of realignment occurring without one or more of our sitting council persons being somehow affected are millions to one. The official 2000 Census numbers are what they are. They were confirmed by all six people on the committee as well as the County Clerk (and if anyone should be able to accurately do so, it is she.)

The requirement by law is to take the total population (via those numbers) and divide the area within the city limits into six districts as close in equal population as possible. They must also be contiguous (meaning bordering up against each other). And lastly, there must be an effort made to not split precincts’ in the process.

Note that I said effort.

If precinct lines have to be crossed in order to attain near equal numbers, it is the legally necessary thing to do in order to assure equality of representation.

The number of registered voters in a given district does not enter into the equation at the city level at all.

Neither does the physical size (square feet/blocks/miles/ etc.)

Now to the heart of the matter. The recommendation that was on the agenda Monday night was just that, a recommendation. All of the wailing & gnashing of teeth about the Council’s right to do otherwise is nonsense. The only thing preventing them from doing so is their own unwillingness to do the job the law requires of those holding that office.

So long as they bring to the table an alternative plan that equals or betters this one in numbers of population per district and do so in a timely manner, their Constitutional duty will have been served.

Did I mention that waiting until the 2010 Census is completed or until the ever elusive annexation occurs is not an option?

As to the question of individuals favorite voting venue getting moved here are a couple of points.

First of all, when I lived on Market Street my polling place was moved between the two elections that occurred while I was located there. I now live on Spring Street and my polling place has been in two different locations there as well. All those different venues in less than ten years!

Pardon me but it is an insult to my intelligence to assume I’m not smart enough to get to the proper poll if the information is forthcoming from those whose job it is to do such. Naïve as I am, I trust that others both young and old would be equally appalled at being judged so. After all, one would think it should be the perfect opportunity for a candidate desirous of my vote, to actually knock on my door to pass that information on to me. Hell he/she might even take the time to discuss issues with me (a mere voter)!

Moving on to the idea that redrawing the lines may pit two or more current office holders in the same district. My first question is to the prospective candidates. Is ones desire to serve the public good as is always voiced, or is it to get reelected time & time again for some perceived claim on immortality? Why is it that we hear this constant mantra about “serving our constituents” when I can count on two hands the number of individuals that I’ve talked to all over this city who testify to having been blessed with a visit from their council person. Now that is a true exception!

Could it be that amongst all the rhetoric about close knit neighborhoods, they tremble at the thought of actually having to work to get elected & stay elected?

My heart rejoiced at the point in the meeting when another citizen rose to the podium to proclaim her belief that all nine council persons were her representatives as opposed to just one from her district! This is a view I’ve held for a lifetime as most of those now in office can attest to. When I pickup the phone to call about an issue, the majority of them get to hear my voice.

To wrap this up even with the very best of efforts and intentions the end result is always some win & some lose. The trick is to ensure that the winning side is for the betterment of the whole and the losing side, though inconvenienced is not totally devastated and left lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. Graphically overstated but I think you get the point.

So the crux of the matter comes down to this. Who among us decides which is which? AND THE ANSWER IS!***** We the People!

Either by speaking up, putting our name to it and insisting our elected representatives act or by remaining silent, hiding behind anonymity and leaving them to their own devices, WE ultimately decide!

Those that win rejoice in the moment. Those that lose crawl off to lick their wounds and regroup to come back and engage again another day!

As it is and has always been, so hopefully it shall always be. Let us not endanger that prospect by allowing “exceptions” to reign supreme!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hot Off the Press!

I attended this mornings New Albany Board of Works meeting and the highlights are as follows.

The administration has placed Brad Kessings (spelling of last name ???) onsite at the water treatment plant to "manage" the contractractual obligations (my take is to be the Mayors watch dog) of EMC as they pertain to our waste water & storm water systems.

As of August 1st Traffic will no longer be able to turn South on Scribner from Elm Street going to Main Street. This is to be a 30 day test period at the end of which there are proposed meetings to obtain comment from city officials and the public as well to acertain if the clousure should remain permanent.

The other big news is that "WE ARE GOING TO PAVE SOME STREETS!" Beginning July 7th, milling & paving is to begin on State Street at Elm and continue on to Union Street. It stops there for now as there is underground utility work scheduled for later in the year from Union on towards I 265.

Following that Mount Tabot is to be repaved from Charlestown Road to Grantline Road in the same fashion.

Then when Mt. Tabor is completed, McDonald Lane is to receive a face lift from Charlestown Road to Grantline.

The monies to do these first three streets are (as per Deputy Mayor Carl Malysz) in hand in the form of LRS Funds which is just shy of $300K.

Can you smell the hot asphalt yet?