Improved building-code enforcement sought

TRINIDAD — The city council here is discussing proposed local building-code changes aimed at providing better enforcement tools to ensure buildings aren’t allowed to fall into disrepair.

Les Downs, city attorney, said the proposed changes would, in part, add six paragraphs to the existing codes, making them more specific to Trinidad’s situation and not as focused on the updated 2009 International Building Codes (IBC) that council adopted last year. Downs said the intent of the changes is to give Chris Kelley, city building inspector, more enforcement authority. Downs said the proposed changes spell out what Kelley does and what authority he has as a building inspector. Kelley and other staff members of the building inspector’s office drafted the changes.

Kelley said his department had made the changes on the recommendation of the council to strengthen the codes for abandoned and non-used buildings. He said he and his staff had used code examples from seven other municipalities in coming up with the proposed changes.

Kelley said the big change is in the “Notice of Order,” which is the citation he sends to building owners when an inspection reveals they’re not in compliance with city codes, and the building may be a threat to people’s life and safety. Currently, the city has little recourse if a building owner doesn’t respond to a Notice of Order, except to send another notice.

“We’re only going to send you two notices from now on,” he said. “You get one, and if you don’t respond we’ll send you a final one. You have 30 days to respond, and if you don’t respond we’re going to step in and either tear it down or repair it, one of the two.”

Kelley said that was better than the present situation, where one Notice of Order was followed a few months later by another, and then by a third. He said the end result of that process was that years could pass with nothing done to repair a building whose owner received the Notices of Order.

Council member Linda Velasquez asked who would be responsible for paying for the repair of derelict buildings.

Kelley said he thought the city would pay for the repairs of a site owned by an absentee or otherwise non-responsive owner. He said the updated codes would enable the city to not only add the repair costs to the owner’s tax lien, as it does now but would also make possible a court filing against the owner of the record in order to recover the city’s repair costs. He said that right now the city can only put a lien against the property and hope to get paid when the property was sold.

Kelley added that if a building owner had received a Notice of Order, the owner could not sell the building until it was repaired to the city’s satisfaction.

“I hope that with strengthening these codes, the owners understand that the city is serious and that we want them to pay attention to their buildings,” City Manager Tom Acre said. “Along with collecting the money, say if we had to do something to a building, by assessing on the tax lien, they would have to pay it with their property taxes every year. We can make it to where it’s on their tax bill every year.”

Kelley noted there are provisions in the proposed code updates that provide for penalties in civil court for code violations. He said those provisions are based on the 2009 IBC codes.