New property code regulations cross the line

I hope you live in a perfect home! Especially you, Council-people. Last year in August, the Marietta City Council passed the update to the city’s property code with the newest version of the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) written by a private corporation called the International Code Council. This IPMC has been implemented quite rapidly and widely throughout the United States and versions exist all over the world. It is an update to an older version, which the city of Marietta has been using since 1999. The code itself contains common sense standards. Yet, the code also includes (even earlier versions) the addition of an Office of Code Enforcement, or such duties relegated to a code enforcer. This may sound fine so that the code is implemented evenly and problems can be fixed, but at the same time, the powers which are wielded by a code enforcer are great. Did you know that the code allows the code enforcer, by himself or with the aid of the police, to enter a property without due process? All under the assumption that the code is being violated. This stems from the ability of a complaint to be easily, even anonymously, submitted to the code enforcer which by the code itself, is grounds to assume the code is being disregarded on that property. This allows him and armed police to search the premises and even enter forcibly into the structure in question. Yet remember, law states that police and other government entities cannot legally enter a property by themselves without a judge issued warrant. This power is amazing by itself, but also sets precedence for other impositions by local, state and federal government allowing them to wield power over the individual and his rights to own property without intrusion.

As for government getting involved with the private affairs of anybody who lives in or owns a home within the city limits, these new and not-before-seen powers of a code enforcer, are overarching and extreme. We see the corruption at the national and even state level, but we’re not going to question the viability or constitutional legality of a bureaucracy which can use its powers at a whim? Is it right that they can now punish, through major fines or imprisonment, the person who does not follow the (copyrighted and adopted without a vote by the people) code, to a “T”? The code will now do more harm to more people than the old code, which can already take measures against all complaints, short of being able to use gestapo tactics by blatantly violating private property rights. The present code should be followed, but by the reasoning of a zealous city council, they have the type of mentality that says all people need to be protected from themselves, and government should be those who do it. This power, while it has not yet existed locally, has been abused and is being abused in other places in this country, and will be abused here. Take for example a Cape Coral, Fla., woman who had an “off the grid” lifestyle – by collecting water for use and did not use public utilities. Solar and candles. The city, getting wind of this information, came to her home to kick her out because by the IPMC code which they use, deems the place a health hazard and unfit for human living. Besides thwarting the government utility monopoly and saving lots of money for many years, the woman enjoys her lifestyle and up until then, no one had even thought that it could remotely be unsafe. But it resides within the city limits, and the city doesn’t like that. The code gives them the rest of the power.

It’s not about allowing these powers with some sort of oversight. It’s the idea that citizens would allow this power to be held at all. This world may be imperfect. The system may be imperfect. Your house may be imperfect. Whole parts of the town might seem “blighted” and are imperfect. But for the idea that our government should be the ones to tell us, nee, force us, to live how they want, with less than 5 inch grass, and even sidewalks, and every perfection in our homes, is to invite government to make us serve them, than the government which is supposed to serve us. It only serves the interests of the state or a zealous people who like to make trouble for others. In this case, property owners. If you’re looking for an emotional debate, look no further than the city council who will use every instance under the sun in which they have seen people hoard in their homes, or have their home burn down, or have a flooded basement or get a broken hip or somehow ingest lead in the paint or the yard with tall grass is devaluing neighboring properties, and so on and so forth. I do not see how power by government, on the premise of preventing such things from happening and punishing people before anything even happens or could happen, is good for anyone; especially when you consider that most homes, whole or being used as apartments, were built long ago before 1978. In fact, if the code is to be understood, most homes in Marietta would probably be non-compliant. Nothing is going to be perfect, unless you’re a millionaire who may have spent on refurbishing the entire property.

It’s interesting to note how many homes I have even been in in Marietta: nice homes and apartments with beautiful exteriors and great facades. Yet, the wiring is all wrong, the plumbing makes no sense, the walls use less than ideal sizes or amounts of wood blocking, etc. But they’re livable. They work. They’re owned or lived in by respectable people. Problems – maybe. If you’re going by code. But problems that warrant condemning each one or imprisoning people with jail time or excessive fines? Never. If something happens, unfortunately, it happens. Government, thank God, cannot and should not intervene. Yet, they may now.

It would be an interesting experiment if, there were two code enforcers: Each one would inspect the others property and also go around to each council members property, and see if everything is perfect. And I mean, P-E-R-F-E-C-T. Now talk about accountability – no one in government would even consider such an idea, because, believe me, someone would find something, somewhere. Now that’s something to stop and think about.

Sam Ludtman lives in Reno.