Regulations Affecting Housing
REGULATIONS AFFECTING HOUSING
Regulations affecting housing are enacted to assure decent, safe, and sanitary conditions for occupancy and habitation. They are enacted as codes through government ordinance and are usually administered by a local zoning, building, or health department. (A state may adapt standards to be enforced by a state agency where no local enforcement is available.) Code provisions may address new construction, improvements, or general property maintenance.
Most local codes are based on standards developed by professional organizations, such as the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), with input from engineers, architects, technicians, builders, contractors, materials
The agency responsible for enforcing a code may also require repairs or improvements of structures due to damage, deterioration, or the existence of a hazard. In these instances, the local agency must issue "orders-to-comply" to the titled owner or person in control of the premises specifying the nature of the violation and providing a minimum time for completion of repairs. Dilapidated structures may also be condemned and vacated. Provisions for razing dilapidated structures may be outlined in the codes. The administrative appeal process, which is subject to subsequent judicial review, is also included in the codes.
A code may provide for civil and criminal penalties for noncompliance. Civil penalties include administrative fines or completion of repairs at the owner's expense. Unpaid penalties may be assessed as liens against the real estate at issue. A code violation may also be prosecuted as a misdemeanor criminal offense, with penalties of court-imposed fines or incarceration.
A number of factors affect the ability of a community to adopt and adequately enforce a housing code. The willingness and ability of local elected representatives to provide the necessary financial and political support is essential for effective enforcement, as is the cooperation of the local courts in prosecuting violators. Civil remedies such as making necessary repairs and levying a property tax lien may prove prohibitive to less affluent communities. The age and general condition of the local housing stock also affects the ability of local agencies to enforce codes. The prevalence of older deteriorated housing serves as a serious impediment in some areas. Organized efforts by local contractors, property owners, and housing advocates can influence enforcement efforts, as can the availability of state or federal funds for rehabilitation and demolition.
The enforcement of local codes is intended to assure a decent, safe, and sanitary housing stock, to enhance residential property values, to further local political objectives, and to eliminate blighting influences in a community. Although the manner and method of code enforcement varies from community to community, the minimum basic requirements for occupied housing are fairly consistent.
MICHAEL G. SMYLIE