With neighborhood blight becoming a more significant problem in the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, the City Council this week got an update on efforts to keep the city looking good.
The city's new Rental Inspection Program was put in place in July of this year, seeking to make sure abandoned homes, rental properties and even homeowners with unkempt properties did not adversely impact their neighborhoods with unsightly conditions. The program is administered by the city's Code Enforcement Department, which also monitors and enforces laws on weed control, storm water pollution and abandoned vehicles, among other things.
It's important to remember that the removal of blight feeds into public safety and the impression of public safety, said Councilman Brandon Richey, a member of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee that oversaw the implementation of the Rental Inspection Program. The effort required the overhaul of several sections of city code, some of which had not been updated since the 1950s.
The Code Enforcement Program's main focus has changed over the past year due to the economy and the high number of foreclosures, Chief Building Official Louis Kidwell wrote in the staff report presented to the council Tuesday. Complaints are being prioritized and the top three complaint types have been: abandoned homes, landscape maintenance and nuisance abatement.
The Property Maintenance and Nuisance ordinances were codified to assist staff with their enforcement efforts. Several code modifications were made to provide better clarity, and notices of pending action are now being recorded against problem properties' in order to ensure the code violations are corrected prior to transfer of ownership. The City also has the ability to place liens on properties as a means to recover abatement costs and fines.
Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Bienneman walked the council through a detailed report of what the department has been up to since the passage of the new law, part of which requires landlords to obtain a business license in order to rent properties in Brentwood. Between July and September, the city sent notices to 1,431 potential rentals identified by comparing the address where tax bills are sent to the property address, checking tax rolls for properties on which homeowner's exemptions were not claimed, and watching advertising. The notices are being sent in phases to help streamline workloads.
Notices sent thus far have resulted in 360 new business licenses, garnering more than $35,000 in revenue that will help offset the program's costs. About 160 cases remain open, and 45 of the 360 rentals identified were issued administrative citations to gain compliance.
The report showed Code Enforcement has also been busy with its other duties:
Since January, 3,925 code enforcement cases have been opened (either because of a complaint or officers' observation). Almost 3,000 of those cases have been resolved.
So far this year, the department has contacted 1,491 businesses seen doing business or advertising that they do business in Brentwood. The result has been 162 new and 990 delinquent businesses brought into compliance; 339 cases remain open.
Down significantly this year are storm water enforcement cases, mostly due to the construction downturn. In 2007, the department made 1,019 residential development inspections (only 414 so far this year), 248 commercial inspections (93 this year), and 492 residential property inspections (104 this year). In 2007, 44 developers were active, compared to only 12 so far in 2008.
So far this year, 430 abandoned homes have been identified in Brentwood, though Bienneman said there are many more out there. Fifty of those have swimming pools, which are now also being monitored and treated for mosquito control.
In 2007, the city found 473 abandoned vehicles; so far in 2008, the number is 246.
Based on what we can see here, (the new Code Enforcement rules) have been very successful, Richey said. The magnitude and scope of what Code Enforcement does is absolutely mind-blowing.
Councilman Erick Stonebarger also praised the department's efforts, noting the high voluntary compliance rates (89 percent) as well as his own experience.
I got a ticket for leaving my trash cans out, he said. I don't leave them out any more.
To report a problem or learn more about Code Enforcement, log on to the city's Web site, and click on Code Enforcement under City Departments.