Property code puts city in charge of minimum standards

Marietta City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Annexation committee is conducting a series of public meetings about the city’s need to update its minimum housing codes, junk car rules and a variety of other issues including fire safety that impact peoples’ lives every day.

The Marietta city administration took over the proceedings on Tuesday, Jan. 29. A letter to the editor in The Times on Jan. 24 expressed several opinions that distort the process and ask leading questions that are someone’s dreams about a planned takeover of the world by big government.

The Property Maintenance Code is just the opposite. If updated by council, it puts the city in charge of its minimum standards. It is administered by local people who are elected or appointed by local elected officials, not some international tribunal.

For the record, Marietta City Council adopted the International Property Maintenance Code of 1998 on July 1, 1999. The city has been a dues-paying member of the International Code Council throughout the years. That code is now 14 years old. Just as the city recently did with state fire codes, we are trying to catch the city up with current minimum standards for housing, junk vehicles and other quality of life issues.

“This code is founded on principles intended to establish provisions consistent with the scope of a property maintenance code that adequately protects public health, safety and welfare; provisions that do not unnecessarily increase construction costs; provisions that do not restrict the use of new materials, products or methods of construction; and provisions that do not give preferential treatment to particular types or classes of materials, products or methods of construction,” Property Maintenance Code Page iii.

If council adopts the current code, it gives up nothing to any outside organization. The city and the city alone is responsible for enforcing the code. That was the short coming in 1999, the council at that time caved in to powerful landlords, and said, okay, we won’t have any person responsible for enforcing the minimum standards we just approved.

The bottom line is the city needs to take responsibility for imminently dangerous properties; when conditions exist which could cause serious or life-threatening injury or death at any time. Unfortunately, we have way too many of those in our beautifully historical city.

The current attempt – started last October and continuing until all citizens have had an opportunity to speak on the issue – is designed to update the code and establish a fair and consistent plan for enforcing the minimum standards. Why should the city have minimum standards?

The answer is some people and companies decide through conscious decisions or neglect to put others’ health and safety at risk. Neighbors began complaining in 2004 about a house near the Marietta Middle School. They have complained about every year since. The house sits today, windows broken, animal waste piled deep, black mold throughout and trash everywhere. Marietta Middle School students daily walk back and forth near that property. A 4-year-old child lives next door. His mother is rightly concerned about his safety and well being as windows are shattered by kids throwing rocks. Police have been called repeatedly when the house is unsecured. Neighbors call me regularly because of the degradation of their neighborhood and damage to property values and safety of their children.

Blocks away – but next to two city rights-of-way and walking paths used by middle school students on a daily basis, an abandoned house sits with nail impaled and rotting boards waiting for an accident to happen. It is a disaster waiting to happen. The house has not been secured for at least two years, most likely, much longer. Thirty feet away, a basement full of broken concrete blocks lay heaped where they have fallen amongst more nail impaled timbers. Steel spikes beckon from concrete slabs. Properties such as this are called “imminent danger” or “attractive nuisances,” because they encourage young people looking for adventure to get too close and offer an opportunity for someone to get hurt or killed.

As a former journalist, I can tell you there is little joy in writing a news story about a child’s unnecessary injury or death. My guess is police and firefighters don’t enjoy rescuing or trying to rescue children from “imminent dangers” or “attractive nuisances” after they have been injured or worse.

The International Property Maintenance Code of 2012 is a 40-page booklet developed by the International Code Council, a group of people who work cooperatively to help make our communities safe. A copy of the code is available for examination in the Marietta City Council clerk’s office on the second floor of 308 Putnam St. Marietta Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp recently obtained copies for distribution to city council members and department heads.

I would like to see other people reading them, too. The issue is the beauty and safety in our town. The goal is to use common sense with minimum standards and rules so that those who own abandoned and deteriorating buildings, allow rats and other vermin to invade neighborhoods and leave junk vehicles sitting in public view for years are held both responsible and accountable. This is no attempt at government taking people’s property. Believe me, the city doesn’t want these rat traps and fire hazards.

I read years ago, you are either part of the solution of problem or you are part of the problem. I encourage anyone interested to be part of the solution of the challenges facing our beautiful city as it celebrates its 225 anniversary.

Marietta City Councilman Roger G. Kalter represents the 1st Ward.