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Old 03-10-2010, 08:25 AM
 
Location: Back home in California
593 posts, read 1,058,308 times
Reputation: 285

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Look out, it appears that the City of Austin is clamping down on Code Violations.

Code violation letters rain down on South Austin neighborhood

Sounded like an excuse to generate revenue to me. What do you think?

What I found most striking about this article is that it seems to be a common practice here for people to buy homes without first confirming there are appropriate permits on file and no code violations. What's up with that? Why would any reasonable person buy themselves such troubles? I was shocked when the one couple in the article seemed to dismiss the fact that the problem was handed off to the buyer of their home. Seemed pretty arrogant to me (I smell a lawsuit there).

I hear a lot of advocacy on this board for the use of real estate professionals to oversee home buy/sell transactions. Who is dropping the ball here? Or is this article just illustrative of anomalies?
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Old 03-11-2010, 11:35 AM
 
Location: Austin, TX
14,523 posts, read 21,161,315 times
Reputation: 6509
Quote:
Originally Posted by XLadylawX View Post
Look out, it appears that the City of Austin is clamping down on Code Violations.

Code violation letters rain down on South Austin neighborhood

Sounded like an excuse to generate revenue to me. What do you think?
I think this situation is nuts, there needs to be a statue of limitations or grandfathering granted for these older modifications. I sent an email message to all of the council offices complaining about it. See my email below. You can register your objection to this with all council members at once by using this webpage. City of Austin - Send an e-mail to Mayor and Council

Quote:
What I found most striking about this article is that it seems to be a common practice here for people to buy homes without first confirming there are appropriate permits on file and no code violations. What's up with that? Why would any reasonable person buy themselves such troubles?
Speaking as an architect with 33 years of experience working in Austin with all its development ordinances and building codes, I can say with complete confidence that there is no practical way to confirm that a home does not have any code violations. The codes change too often. Which one should you be gauging your home against? If your home is more then a few years old it is probably already in violation of the newer codes that have been adopted, but it should be grandfathered if it has not been modified. It is often impossible to tell which parts of your home are original (should be grandfathered) and which parts were remodeled. Even a professional home inspector would have trouble telling you this with any certainty. I know several "code specialist" consultants who could not tell you this with any degree of confidence and without having to spend an enormous amount of time $$$ researching it.

Even new homes with recently approved permits have code violations, because inspectors miss things are don't consider them important to enforce, and builder's sometimes cut corners or are ignorant themselves as to what the code requires. Also with large home builders, they are not required to inspect every home, so things get missed or left out. But you as the innocent home owner are responsible for these things if they come to light later.

Many homes that are now in the City of Austin were annexed into it some years after they were built. Those homes were not required to meet any of the City codes back then, why should they be required to upgrade now?

Quote:
I was shocked when the one couple in the article seemed to dismiss the fact that the problem was handed off to the buyer of their home. Seemed pretty arrogant to me (I smell a lawsuit there).
I understand what you are saying, but it doesn't shock me. I agree a lawsuit could be an option if the new owners had reason to think the previous owners were aware of the problem. But how could they have possibly known about "the problem"? They were not notified until after the closing. You can't fault someone for being unaware of a problem if they did not create it.

Quote:
I hear a lot of advocacy on this board for the use of real estate professionals to oversee home buy/sell transactions. Who is dropping the ball here? Or is this article just illustrative of anomalies?
I don't think anyone has dropped the ball here, it is a case of over-zealous code enforcement. I don't think there are any real estate professionals who could do what you are expecting with any confidence. I doubt many of the "code specialists" working at the City could tell you which codes applied when an older house was built or remodeled and which new requirements should be grandfathered. The City code for residential construction used to be the Uniform Building Code, a few years back the City decided to adopt the International Residential Code. There are huge differences between these codes and many of the requirements are very cryptic and subject to interpretation. Most current City code specialists are probably only familiar with the recent code they are charged with enforcing.

Here is the letter I wrote to the council members:

Quote:
Subject: Code violation letters rain down on South Austin neighborhood
Categories: code_enforcement
Comments: In regard to the Statesman news article:

I suspect it is most likely someone who has had problems dealing with the City permit process who has filed all these complaints as a way of protesting.

"The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly." Abraham Lincoln

The City permit processes for minor residential issues such as these are "bad laws". They are insanely difficult and onerous to comply with for the average citizen. And I am saying this as a professional architect who has dealt with the City permitting on commercial projects for most of my 33 year professional career.

I was the project manager responsible for building the City Hall you now occupy. I recently went through the residential permit process to enclose an existing porch creating a sunroom and add on a small deck next to it. The process was absurdly complicated and time consuming and added no value to the finished product, as code reviewers were not even interested in looking at the drawings I submitted. They waited until after the construction was built to tell me what things I had to change, costing me thousands of dollars in additional expense to change things they should have been able to point out during the plan review.

Perhaps if the City gets overwhelmed by enough of these complaints and angers enough citizens you good folks will finally do something to change the ordinances. It has certainly inspired me to go out and start filing complaints.

I'm suspect that some of the homes in this and similar areas which could be targeted like this were probably built and modified before the City annexed these areas. So they were not subject to City building codes. Also the codes change every few years, it would be very difficult for someone to know what the code requirements were when their older home was built. If you live in a home that is more then 5 or 6 years old it probably does not meet the current codes. Does that mean you should be fined for it?

I'm pretty sure that back in the 70-80's the City codes did not require building permits for many of these minor residential modifications. At least I could not find any written requirements that I get a permit when I researched a modification issue back then.

It is absurd that modifications made that long ago should have to get permits now. Permits for which code? Even if they complied at the time they would probably not meet current codes as they get stiffer every year.

You folks need to change these laws and ordinances. I it is your civic duty to fix this insanity.

Last edited by CptnRn; 03-11-2010 at 11:45 AM..
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Old 03-11-2010, 11:46 AM
 
Location: central Austin
4,696 posts, read 6,950,037 times
Reputation: 1938
Code enforcement is complaint driven. Someone in the area had a complaint made against them and they drove around their neighborhood and wrote down every violation they could see and complained to the city "for revenge" against whoever complained against them.

When we were in the market for a re-sale home, I would routine find improvements done without a permit or permits that were still open on a house. Real estate agents would usually go wide-eyed when I mentioned them. There are experienced, savvy real estate agents out there but most are clueless when it comes to city code, construction standards, and permitting. I don't think that such things encumber the title or titling process so they go unnoticed.
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Old 03-11-2010, 11:54 AM
 
Location: Austin, TX
14,523 posts, read 21,161,315 times
Reputation: 6509
Quote:
Originally Posted by XLadylawX View Post
Look out, it appears that the City of Austin is clamping down on Code Violations.
Actually this is the result of one or several pi**ed off people filing complaints that the City then has to investigate and enforce codes if violations are found.


Quote:
Sounded like an excuse to generate revenue to me. What do you think?
The City is probably loosing money investigating these violations, as most of the fee's collected to get these things permitted generate very little revenue but they take a lot of time, energy and trips to and from the house site to investigate, inspect and enforce the codes.

I'm sure that on the recent residential remodeling I did on my house that the City lost money on that, given that it took at least 6 meetings with city staff at their offices and five visits by inspectors driving to my house in Legend Oaks, as well as several hours of time exchanging correspondence with me in meeting all of the requirements, all for a paltry $111 permit fee.

The biggest expense to me was the absurd amount of time I had to sit around waiting to meet with the City, the time and effort it took to research the codes and try to understand what they required (permit staff was not very helpful here, they did not even look at or comment on my drawings). And then the cost I incurred having to change things after they came out to inspect the work and found some "violations" for things that were not described clearly in the code manuals. Things that they could have easily pointed out earlier if they had bothered to look at the plans I submitted. These costs easily exceeded $2.000.
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Old 03-11-2010, 03:01 PM
 
1,269 posts, read 929,482 times
Reputation: 643
Quote:
Originally Posted by XLadylawX View Post
Look out, it appears that the City of Austin is clamping down on Code Violations.

Code violation letters rain down on South Austin neighborhood

Sounded like an excuse to generate revenue to me. What do you think?

What I found most striking about this article is that it seems to be a common practice here for people to buy homes without first confirming there are appropriate permits on file and no code violations. What's up with that? Why would any reasonable person buy themselves such troubles? I was shocked when the one couple in the article seemed to dismiss the fact that the problem was handed off to the buyer of their home. Seemed pretty arrogant to me (I smell a lawsuit there).

I hear a lot of advocacy on this board for the use of real estate professionals to oversee home buy/sell transactions. Who is dropping the ball here? Or is this article just illustrative of anomalies?
My guess is that virtually every house older than 20 years or so in this town has some code violations in it. Put a new light socket in and didn't pull a permit? Violation. New front door and no permit? Violation. Etc., etc. At some time in the recent past the Austin code department turned into absolute hard asses.
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Old 03-11-2010, 03:10 PM
 
Location: Central Texas
16,499 posts, read 22,967,292 times
Reputation: 12798
I really wish (among other things) there was a way to find out who the "anonymous" person was who called in all of these code violations. Of course, no legal action could be taken, but it sure wouldn't hurt if their name were known.

The article did say that if anything is done that requires turning off a breaker (putting in a new light switch was the example given), a permit is required. That appears to be unreasonable and I'd think the code needs to be modified if that's, indeed, the case (not taking as gospel anything I read in the press).
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Old 03-11-2010, 03:38 PM
 
Location: Cedar Park/NW Austin
1,301 posts, read 1,693,686 times
Reputation: 856
I hope I never invite this person into my house because my staircase has a code violation (gasp 6 inches between balusters versus 4!).
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Old 03-11-2010, 03:51 PM
 
Location: Holly Neighborhood, AUSTINtx
2,665 posts, read 2,990,010 times
Reputation: 1284
On the whole code enforcement is a worthwhile service to the community, that can be misused like anything else. Just in my neighborhood they get rid of hundreds of planted signs, aka, roadside spam. Also I, along with another "anonymous" neighbor, turned in a resident for making our street his little used car lot. The fact that it was anonymous allowed us to turn him in without fear of recrimination. Everyone but him (and maybe his wife) thought it was a change for the better.
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Old 03-11-2010, 04:03 PM
 
958 posts, read 1,189,089 times
Reputation: 554
Code violations are always a tricky thing, like any power it can be used for good or evil As has been mentioned, one can probably find a multitude of violations in any home if you looked for it. We had an issue in our neighborhood where one of the "neighbors" decided to take it upon themselves to report pretty much every violation they saw (even multiple times). Needless to say this caused a fair amount of ruffled feathers. Luckily the issue was resolved but really there isn't much one can do if one or more folks decides to become "neighborhood compliance cop". The city could help a bit here since things tend to get a bit draconian once a complaint is filed. Sounds like it might be a case of the city having to be aggressive to handle the 5% that tend to ignore these complaints so the other 95% who genuinely want to address the issue get caught up in it.

THL, I would disagree that losing anonymity wouldn't hurt anything. There are already well known cases of neighbors escalating disputes that start with a code violation complaint and making the complainers name available would IMHO increase this thereby discouraging folks from filing the complaints (yes, I realize that this is the desired effect for some). So as much as it sucks to be on the receiving end of a complaint, I think it needs to stay anonymous.
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Old 03-11-2010, 06:00 PM
 
Location: Central Texas
16,499 posts, read 22,967,292 times
Reputation: 12798
Okay, how about this. If someone turns in one person, anonymity. If someone turns in 30 people, they get to be up front about it.

Also, if someone turns in a code violation that has been in place since before 1968 (one of the cases in the article), they get to step up and identify themselves and explain why it is suddenly an issue.
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