Our code enforcement system is almost exclusively reactionary. A building inspector typically only looks at a property for a code violation if the problem has gotten so bad that a neighbor has called it into 311 multiple times or a community group has brought it to the attention of their Council member. We need to re-imagine code enforcement so that we can stop blight from getting out of control in our communities. If we can create a system that proactively addresses issues before they become serious we can reduce our costs, keep our communities safer and cleaner, and help struggling property owners make small fixes that prevent the need for larger ones.
1. Beat Patrols for Code Enforcement Officers
Using data, we can drive proactive code enforcement where officers actively seek out cases of blight or abandonment that are contributing to neighborhood decline. For example, in Miami an innovative mapping technology uses data from current and prior years to create a “heat map” of areas where blight is most prevalent. Officers in Pittsburgh could use this information to patrol a “beat,” citing issues with overgrowth or snow removal before the problem gets out of control and requires more extreme action.
2. Citation Tickets
The process to take a case to housing court can drag on for weeks or even months. By that time, the problem may have worsened considerably or may have expanded. We will look to borrow a solution from Allentown and Philadelphia, who use an education and enforcement system designed to cut down on the number of problems that make it to housing court. Officers use citations similar to parking tickets for simple violations such as overgrowth, litter, and icy sidewalks. If the problem is fixed and the fine is paid, the issue does not need to enter the housing court process. If the issue is not resolved, then the case is taken before the magistrate. These tickets help move more significant cases through housing court while nipping other problems in the bud.
If property owners know that they could receive a fine for failure to address these issues, and they know that they won’t have the opportunity to bog the process down in housing court, they are more likely to respond and take corrective action.