Communities Don’t Run Well When Regs Aren’t Enforced

When people drive down a beautiful street or walk into a gorgeous new building the last thing most think about is code enforcement. That’s likely because a lot of us have no idea what code enforcement entails or how it makes our lives better.

If it weren’t for code enforcement officers our communities would be far less attractive, properly maintained, lawful or safe. That’s because communities simply don’t run well when ordinances, rules and regulations aren’t enforced.

In New York State, code enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing all the provisions of the Uniform Code, the Energy Code and the local law surrounding issuing Building Permits, including Certificates of Occupancy and Certificates of Compliance; Temporary Certificates; and Operating Permits. That includes reviewing and approving all the plans, specifications and construction documents submitted with those applications to ensure they meet building codes and zoning regulations.

Code enforcement officers inspect and monitor construction sites. They do things like make sure the footers, foundations, plumbing, electrical structures and systems are installed to meet codes and ordinances for public safety. They make sure the number of smoke and CO2 detectors in a building meet fire safety codes.

In addition to conducting a lot of construction, fire safety, and property maintenance inspections, some code enforcement officers may be expected to inspect sewer and water systems; streets and highways; bridges; sidewalks; beaches; and parks. They survey those sites looking for nuisance violations, unsafe conditions, environmental or health hazards.

They also have to respond to complaints from citizens, other municipal departments, businesses and agencies. The issues can be as simple as someone complaining about the length of their neighbor’s lawn or as complex as a neighborhood group wanting an abandoned building torn down because it looks like it may catch on fire or collapse on top of them.

In some communities, code enforcement officers may be required to investigate storm water issues, illegal dumping or abandoned unlicensed cars. Some have to deal with graffiti, illegal signs, collapsing sheds or yards full of junk. Others are expected to investigate calls about nuisance or neglected animals https://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/crime/2018/11/14/animal-cruelty-found-dead-dogs-donna-roberts-shamong-nj/2000772002/. The responsibilities and duties of the code enforcement officers vary dramatically by jurisdiction and municipality.

Depending on what the code enforcement officer finds after conducting a thorough investigation, they may have to confirm a violation. They’ll then issue a warning or an order to remedy citation. They will usually work with property owners to help them quickly comply with the local regulations. When property owners don’t fix what is causing the violation, the code enforcement officer may have no choice but to issue Stop Work Orders or to pursue legal actions. Some may result in severe penalties, including fines that accrue daily.

Code enforcement is a tough profession that doesn’t get much recognition. It requires a lot of training. Code enforcement officers must earn specific credentials and constantly stay up-to-date on a multitude of regulations. It’s a very demanding job.

While code enforcement officers are not police, they do have to enforce laws. They work for local or county government departments. They exist to enforce state laws in addition to their local jurisdiction’s established code requirements, ordinances, and zoning laws, which can vary widely between jurisdictions. To make their jobs even harder still, laws change and new problems appear all the time. Code enforcement officers have to be able to answer questions about all of these things in real time.

It’s getting harder and harder to find enough well-trained code enforcement officers to replace the ones who are retiring or moving on to other things. It may well be time to consider standardizing the code ordinances and job requirements across our area. That way we might be able to meet the demand for code enforcement officers and they will be able to easily work in more communities than just one or two.

Code enforcement is essential. Let’s help code enforcement officers keep our neighborhoods safe, healthy and looking great.

Patty Hammond is economic development coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org.


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