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City Council Work Session
Meeting Date: 10/08/2019  
Subject:    Property Maintenance and Code Enforcement Discussion
From: Trevor White, Property Maintenance Coordinator

Staff would like to have a discussion regarding the City's philosophy and approach to property maintenance and code enforcement.
Currently, code enforcement is mostly driven by resident complaints.  When a complaint is received, a Property Maintenance Inspector will verify there is a code violation at the property and will follow-up as necessary.  In an attempt to not single out a specific property, the inspector will also look at neighboring properties to see if there are violations.  If a violation is noted, an Administrative Citation is issued.
Using a reactive or complaint based approach is a good tool to address specific violations; however, it is not always effective in the reduction of blight in neighborhoods.  Using this method relies on property owners to call on their neighbors, who are often  fearful of retaliation for reporting the issue.  Furthermore, residents expect the City to take care of code violations, so when nothing happens and a resident finally calls they are usually upset that the violations were allowed to continue for so long.  In most cases, staff is not aware of the situation until a complaint is received.

Alternative Options
Another option for managing code enforcement that staff would like to explore is to take a proactive approach by conducting neighborhood sweeps.  Proactive code enforcement has been an effective tool for many metro cities.  For example, the City of Shoreview has a program called SHINE, in which the city conducts neighborhood sweeps twice a year.  The City of Roseville has a Neighborhood Enhancement Program that has been in place for the past 11 years that has been very successful and resulted in a significant drop in complaints in the sweep areas. The City of Burnsville conducts neighborhood sweeps looking at one-third of the city each year and staff there has seen an increase in compliance in sweep areas. The City of Brooklyn Center conducts proactive sweeps that take place two to three times a year.  Inspectors use this time to build relationships with property owners and find that the approach is a useful and effective tool for code enforcement.

Under the City's current code enforcement approach, the first contact a resident receives from Property Maintenance is in the form of an Administrative Citation.  Whereas, when conducting proactive neighborhood sweeps the residents will receive mailings (two weeks in advance of the inspections) from Property Maintenance staff giving notice of when inspectors will be in the neighborhood and what the inspectors will be looking at.  This will give time for residents to do a self-evaluation of their property as well as the opportunity to call to ask any questions they might have.  Inspectors would document code violations and follow-up with a Notice of Violation (NOV) letter.  The NOV will detail the code violations, establish a compliance date, and give notice that if the violation is not corrected an Administrative Citation will be issued.
When the property is re-inspected and is in compliance the file will be closed.  If the violation remains, the Administrative Citation process will be used.  As with any first citation, if the property owner comes into compliance before the compliance date, the penalty will be waived.  This process allows for additional notice to the property owners and gives ample time to correct any violations they might have. 

With a proactive code enforcement program it is just as important to build relationships in the neighborhoods as it is when addressing code violations.  When Property Maintenance Inspectors are in neighborhoods conducting code enforcement sweeps, they will have contact with property owners in a way a typical inspection does not allow.
Part of the rationale to issuing an NOV while conducting sweeps is that the violations are not coming from resident complaints.  Currently, residents have an expectation that when they make a complaint something will be done quickly.  Issuing an Administrative Citation right away gives 10 days for compliance, if nothing is done there is a financial penalty and action from the City.  It should be noted that under a proactive approach, issuing an NOV first and then a citation would prolong the overall enforcement process.  Using the NOV as part of neighborhood sweeps would allow staff to evaluate compliance rates of the Notice of Violation versus the Administrative Citation.
One additional option to consider would be to maintain the City's current approach, but to issue an NOV letter first with a compliance period rather than starting with an Administrative Citation.  If compliance is not achieved, the Administrative Citation process would then be used.  While the NOV could be a less stressful notice from the City, it could also potentially prolong the process for properties that do not come into compliance on the first notice. While there is no perfect approach to code enforcement and regardless of the approach used, staff will continue working with the residents with the ultimate goal of compliance with city code.

The table below shows the number of citations issued, compliance rates and number of abatements over the last three years.  Staff believes that utilizing a proactive approach, giving property owners advanced notice that inspections will occur and the addition of NOV letters will decrease the number of administrative penalties charged and increase compliance rates in the sweep areas.  
  YTD Citations Issued 1008
  YTD Compliance Rate 81%
  YTD Abatements 64
  Citations Issued 1293
  Compliance Rate 85%
  Abatements 69
  Citations Issued 1075
  Compliance Rate 80%
  Abatements 87

Staff is seeking feedback from Council on making changes to the code enforcement approaches that Property Maintenance staff use.

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