Friday, August 8, 2008

A Violations Bureau & Code Enforcement

Eric Burns, the West Lafayette City Attorney, recently moved to amend West Lafayette City Code to expand the City’s “Violation’s Bureau”. This would allow the City to write tickets to landlords for nuisance violations. Perhaps first a door hanger “warning”; then a ticket - $50.00 for the first offense. Details would be worked out with the City Development office. The ticket could be appealed in City Court.

In principal I applaud the notion of speeding enforcement of city code violations. It would be nice if the offense pictured above (the Grant/Vine alley behind 331 Oak) could be dealt with quickly.

However the scope of the change is worrisome. I care very little if the fine for bungee jumping (81.01) moves from $2500.00 to $50.00. I have some interest in the reduction of the fine for failing to secure a peddler’s license (83.14).
There the $2500.00 fine for failing to secure a license might be reduced to $50.00

I do care very much though if the fine for submitting an incorrect rental affidavit (117.20) changes from $1000.00 to $50.00. I care very much if the fine for submitting false or materially incomplete information on an application falls from $500.00 to $50.00.

If the current administration had an established track record in code enforcement, I would be less nervous. The Liu, Weida, and Bowden over-occupancy appeals are still pending six months and $20,000 later. No new cases have been filed to my knowledge, though the second semester (January – May) is the more likely time to discover over-occupancy violations. Anecdotally, the extensive fines scheduled to be imposed following a previous court settlement, were this particular landlord to be caught again in violation of the over-occupancy statutes, became the sole reason he recently declined to lease to a fourth student.

At the last City Council meeting I asked for a list of which fines would be moved into the expanded Violations Bureau. If the violations in 117.20 continue to be pursued by the city attorney apart from the violations bureau, I would support this legislation. If not, I would encourage my Democratic colleagues to vote against the measure in order to retain these hard won over-occupancy penalties and to help save our neighborhood.

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