Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Anti-Overcrowding Ordinance To Be Enforced

Property owners will soon receive notice that city inspectors will begin enforcing a new ordinance aimed at curbing overcrowding.

The City Council approved the ordinance in November 2004. It calls for registration of all one- and two-families homes where the owner does not live on the premises, annual inspections of all such homes and limits on the number of people living there.

Since passage of the ordinance, the Division of Inspections has been busy hiring more inspectors, purchasing vehicles, training the new hires and assembling software to support the new program.

By Oct. 23, the first inspections will begin.

Owners will have to submit their names and addresses, 24-hour emergency numbers, floor plans showing the number of sleeping rooms and the number of tenants in each unit. Registration will cost $75 for each unit. Inspections may be made from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, with the occupant‘s consent. Unregistered units may not be occupied.

Multi-family dwellings must be registered with the state Bureau of Housing Inspection.

As reported in the Plaintalker Sept. 6, 2005, stepped-up code enforcement is already causing an uproar as residents are finding inspectors in their back yards or are being cited for violations not found previously.

Inspections Division Director Jocelyn Pringley and Chief Code Enforcement Officer Oscar Turk met with the City Council Monday (Sept. 12, 2005) to discuss questions and concerns raised by the intensified effort.

Pringley said inspectors have had authority since 1965 to go on private property. City Administrator Norton Bonaparte said the most recent instance of inspectors having to go into yards was after the city passed an ordinance on abandoned cars in yards. To check whether cars are registered, inspectors must go up to the vehicle and may even look under tarps over cars.

Residents’ alarm is such that some inspectors are being threatened, one even with a gun, Public Works Director Priscilla Castles said.

“When you walk onto property, it is going to come as a shock,“ City Council President Linda Carter said, asking what was being done to inform residents of the changes.

An open house on the overcrowding ordinance will be held Nov. 9, Pringley said, but she cited efforts to educate residents about a prior ordinance that ensured at the time of sale that either the buyer or seller would bring the property up to code.

Pringley said to publicize the Certificate of Compliance program, her staff visited all city Realtors to explain it. In addition, she and Turk taught local adult school classes on the topic for three years.

Council members said residents were calling them about inconsistencies in violations issued and about gruff language from inspectors.

Inspections officials said recent training for inspectors covered customer service.

John Campbell, head of Century 21 John C. Campbell Agency on Park Avenue, told the council, “I never heard of nobody recently dying from overcrowding,” as he presented his objections to the ordinance.

But Castles said fervently, ”People do die from overcrowding,” citing fires, disease and other harm.

“Don’t we want our citizens to have a better environment than being stacked on top of each other?“ she asked.

--Bernice Paglia