Todd Peterson is no stranger to dirt, bugs, complaints and mountains of paperwork.
As one of the city's code enforcement officers, Peterson spends each day checking up on complaints, working through a mountain of paperwork and, at times, hauling noncompliant homeowners into city court.
"Our goal is to get problems resolved and to get compliance," Peterson said.
City code enforcement officers work to ensure a home not only looks nice on the outside, but is livable to its inhabitants. They are the ones responsible for enforcing city code, as well as land laws about public welfare, safety, public nuisance, property maintenance and structure design.
"What we cannot do is selective enforcement," Peterson said.
It is typical for a code officer to spend half a shift patrolling the city and the other half working on paperwork in the office. Peterson said at times he would be able to fill full days in his car, checking on his part of the properties in the city that have been cited, though.
When a complaint comes in to the Department of Development, it is typically made by a neighbor or another person close to the residence. Complaint forms are available right on the City of Jamestown website.
When a complaint comes in, it is first cataloged in the Department of Development's front office, before being assigned to one of the city's enforcement officers. The officer will then drive by the affected property to get a visual of the complaint.
All correspondence must be in writing. At times, an officer will take pictures. However, code enforcement officers take care to not go onto a property without permission.
Once a complaint is verified, the code enforcement officer will post a violation notice at the home, and also mail a copy to the homeowner. In the notice, the code violation will be listed, as well as a timetable to take care of the problem. The timetable is based on the enforcement officer's discretion.
"We don't word a notice to be nasty, but we need the owner to know the problem has to be fixed up," Peterson said.
HAULING OFF TO COURT
Once a property is cited, the officer continues to drive by and work with the homeowner to ensure the problem is taken care of. However, if nothing is done, the home will receive another violation notice, this time with an appearance ticket likely attached.
"They are issued the notice. They are given a period of time, depending on the violation, to correct it. If they don't correct it, at that point, we can issue an appearance ticket and bring them in," Peterson said.
Occasionally, people will receive a pre-ticket letter, though.
"We don't use that often. If the person, say, has made some progress and then they stopped, that may be an avenue where we use that," Peterson said. "But, most of the time, it's just a notice of violation and then the ticket."
Friday is housing court day at City Hall. Peterson said he will drive to each of his portion of homes with violations Friday mornings to check on whether progress has been made. If the violation has been taken care of, he is able to dismiss the court case. If progress has been made on the home, he can adjourn the case for another week or two.
However, if the violation has not been taken care of, Peterson will come face-to-face with the homeowner in front of a judge if the homeowner is there.
Every so often, there will be a case where the homeowner has not taken care of their violation and then doesn't show up to court. At this point, the owner is issued a summons to attend housing court. If the owner still doesn't show, a warrant is issued for their arrest.
"If they pick someone up on a warrant, I'll get a phone call saying, 'You have to get to court now,'" Peterson said.
The court fees add up as well. For each time a person a person is brought in to court and the case is not dismissed, there is a $50 administrative fee. And, that fee will possibly be increasing to $100. City Council will be voting on a resolution to increase the fee during Monday evening's City Council meeting.
SWEEPS AND SIGNS
Although the main way of getting a problem addressed is through complaints, code enforcement officers also perform sweeps each year.
During sweeps, each officer will go through their designated part of the city a street at a time, and check for visible violations. For example, homes with indoor furniture outdoors would likely be cited, or those with excessive clutter on the front porch or around the home.
Summer months get busy for code enforcement officers. Peterson said it's not unusual to receive seven to 10 complaints per day that need to be checked on. Additionally, while officers are out driving around, they remove signs, such as for garage sales, from street corners.
"If I come through here in another hour, there will probably be another sign in its place," Peterson said as he removed a sign from a corner. "What people don't realize is they can be fined for this. Businesses can be fined up to $250."
Although he is busy year-round, Peterson said that in the summer, between sweeps, rehab-related projects and all of the paperwork that comes with these, there is very little downtime in his job.
As for those big orange signs, Peterson said there are several steps in establishing a building as unfit to live.
"Condemning a building is either on an emergency basis, where we have been called to a property by the police department, Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, and they've been inside and have seen conditions that are unsafe, unsanitary, people's lives and well-being may be affected," Peterson said. "You go in and look, usually the interior conditions are horrendous, the roaches are probably included, and you have to make the decision that it's not safe for the family to be there, or the individual to be there, and that big orange sign goes up and out they go."
If a property is able to be fixed up, again officers work with the homeowner to establish a timetable for work to be done. However, if a property is too far gone, or the homeowner is unwilling or unable to fix it, the home may be placed on the city demolition list, to be torn down as funds become available.
IT'S A DIRTY JOB, BUT...
Code enforcement officers are on call all the time. If a problem arises in the early hours of the morning, officers will be on-scene to do their job, because that is what they are trained to do.
Although each of Jamestown's code enforcement officers have seen their share of unpleasant sights and living conditions, they have also seen the Cinderella Story.
"Every so often, you do get a success story. You will see someone come in that really gets a property turned around," Peterson said.
In order to be a code enforcement officer, Peterson said there is a certain level of commitment to trying to improve things within neighborhoods.
"Most of us have worked in neighborhoods for many, many years and have seen the kind of problems. You want to try to make a difference and make things better," Peterson said. "You want to get people to simply comply with the law."