JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Sometimes those city code enforcement officers may seem like annoying bureaucrats asking residents to keep foliage mowed or cleared, fix glaring problems on the property and to get debris cleared up.
But the job of municipal code enforcement is more than that. It is about maintaining property values and keeping potential crime away. It also involves the health and safety of residents as well, as was shown earlier this month in a report by Community Development Deputy Director Susan Canon.
For many residents, the homeowner association and neighborly peer pressure is plenty to assure local properties are maintained. But when they are not, it is Code Enforcement that must take matters in hand.
“When neglected properties get out of hand, then Code Enforcement must see to the remediation of the problem,” Canon said. “To date, the city has had 1,000 code enforcement cases in 2012. But only 5 percent have had court involvement.”
The majority have seen owners resolve the problem or are working toward it.
Perhaps one of the biggest tasks of Code Enforcement involves securing vacant or even abandoned property. Not only does unsecured and damaged property give the area “eye pollution” and possibly affect property values, but they can quickly become safety hazards and invitations for criminal activity.
One danger code enforcement officers are alert to is unsecured pools. If empty, then they are a safety hazard if someone fell into them. If even partially filled, they not only are a drowning hazard but a health hazard as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the West Nile virus.
“Seeing to it that vacant property is secured and the grounds maintained not only maintain good property values, but they deter people from coming on the property,” Canon said. “It’s a quality of life issue. So we focus on absentee owners and REOs [real estate owned by banks].”
In recent years, it can mean dealing with subdivisions which have infrastructure but then were abandoned.
This can require exterior structure repairs and even cleaning up interiors to discourage vagrant occupation. In certain cases, this has gone as far as demolition of structures.
“When the chief building official declares a building unsafe, then it must be torn down,” Canon said. “In all of these cases, we have been able to work with the owner to have it done. “
Once the property owner discovers it is cheaper to demolish the structure than to take into compliance, they have been easy to deal with, Canon said.
“We work through the system, making sure we are working with the property owner of record and get the problems corrected,” she said.
So far, eight homes have been demolished in the last five years, all by the property owners.
The objective of code enforcement is to obtain voluntary compliance, Canon said.
“Prosecuting a code violation is the least efficient way to guarantee an improved community. Therefore, education and guidance are the primary services rendered by a code enforcement officer,” she said.