What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sometimes We're Asked to be the Jackbooted Thugs

With the economy worsening and some other specific changes to ownership of property and the management of it we're seeing an increase in some potentially criminal activity in our Village. And we have some upset residents because of it.

So last night I got to handle a complaint about some of this. Much of the conversation revolved around why we can't violate the rights of the "criminal element" or force landlords to do things, or pass laws quickly (when I explained that having a law enforced in under 12 months, if it's significant legislation, probably wouldn't happen). So now I get to feel bad because of what is happening in the Village and that I can't help these people. Or at least in any fashion that would be faster than them simply moving away.

To be fair to us, reading the ordinance they would like us to copy from Cleveland, we've already done some of the "resolving actions" contained. I need to research the Ohio Revised Code that this ordinance references. I have a feeling they go to the civil remedies that are available to renters, but I want to make sure. If they do, what this ordinance would add doesn't help their situation beyond what we've already done.

So law abiding citizens would really like it if the government could just willy-nilly tell people how to manage their property. Or else. After all, we would only use such powers for good.

I've put some things in motion and asked for comment on others and updates on still more. I've told they person they can come to our meetings (you all know that in the US you can go to your government meetings, no reservation - usually - unless you want to speak). But I'm not sure how much more we can help without violating the Constitution and our codified laws. I'll thread the needle of getting information on continuing investigations without interfering or compromising them. That's always fun.

The end result is that if a landowner really wants to let their properties go to seed and ruin, there's not much we can do to stop them. Some laws that have been proposed (through zoning) that could have helped here were roundly trounced as over reaching.

One of these days I'd like to have one week of feeling good.


Nathan said...

Since you're being a little cryptic, I may be responding to something you aren't talking about...but that never stopped me before.

NYC uses existing laws to force property owners to keep even vacant lots clean. Debris and garbage must be removed or you get a violation from the Dept. of Sanitation. If it's a vacant lot it must be fenced.

I'm not sure if you're talking about the type of law that prevents homeowners from having a couch on their front porch, in which case I think that's overreaching, but I do think a municipality has the right to demand certain basic standards from property owners. For example, if a landlord isn't responding to complaints about the lack of heat or water, NYC will go in with almost no hesitation and do the job themselves. Then they charge it back to the landlord. The reimbursement is added to the tax bill and if you don't pay it, you face seizure.

I know what you're talking about when you say "we're the government and we'd only use the laws for good", but there is a reasonable middle ground.

(Don't take this as a criticism since, like I said, I don't really know the details of what you're talking about.)

Steve Buchheit said...

Nathan, I'm being cryptic because 1) I don't want to tip our hand and 2) I don't want this to be an "outing" of the persons involved.

We have laws to help keep the outside areas of buildings and apartments in good order. We just passed an update 2 years ago to address some other problems. But that law specifically keeps us on the outside of buildings. I've already asked our zoning inspector (who is now an actual employee of the village, for only 2.5 years now, instead of a volunteer, and it's now one of several part-time positions we bundled together to make a full time job) to make an inspection of the apartments (if some of the complaints hold true, those are actionable which, if they're not addressed in the time specified, incur a daily fine, and then criminal prosecutions. Even this ordinance goes farther that what most people were comfortable with. Including anything on interiors or being harsher on outside repairs was out of the question (we've tried before, and it was roundly shouted down as overstepping on property owner's rights).

The Ohio Revised Code also includes some provisions, but they are mostly civil in nature (and checking the referenced codes last night, they are the ones I had already researched for this) which means the tenant needs to bring suit against the landlord. The only thing we would be adding is an official report (the majority of which we've already done by informing the landlord with copies of citations and arrest records). Their landlord has refused a letter of complaint by them already.

Much of what they want done revolves around forcing the landlord to fire the current manager (something we can't force), and throw out some of the tenants that manager brought in (which we can't do either). The Cleveland Ordinance they want us to look at involves a "Safety Audit" and an official report and request (with only an official stick waving as penalty).

NYC can do much more because they have more resources. For the Village we have 2 streets employees (who this would fall to to make repairs). They already have enough to do. So where other municipalities have whole work crews, we don't. Neither do we have the money to front a contractor to do the work (and I doubt we could get any to take a "once we get paid, you get paid, even if that means seizure and sale of property two years down the road").

Part of this is also a disillusionment from someone who thought there were moving somewhere safe (and relatively they are), the sale or transfer of property to a new owner who isn't as conscientious as the previous one. Part of it is "why don't we have laws already on the books" and that's a fair complaint, although this is the first time we're facing this bad of a situation.

ThatGreenyFlower said...

Um, that sounds...awful? Or something. I'm just not sure!

My yard looks grand, and that's all I'm going to say about it.

Hang in there, buddy.