At today's Council Lunch, Director of Building Development Services (BDS) Chris Straw presented additional details on a proposal he plans to bring forward for formal City Council approval next month. The proposal focuses on improving the City’s ability to address chronic nuisance properties and buildings/houses that are deemed to be dangerous structures.
“The volume of service requests for dangerous and nuisance properties, and the severity of the cases reported, have increased,” Straw explained. Increased awareness about the issue, following a nine-neighborhood Community Listen tour in Springfield’s Zone 1 neighborhoods in 2015, is one of the reasons Straw cited for the increase in reporting.
Chronic nuisance properties are defined as those properties in which repeated service requests (complaint calls) are received and responded to, including from the City’s Building Development Services, Police and Fire Departments, as well as other calls for service. Certain properties in Springfield have had upwards of 70 complaint calls in a single year.
The issue is such that “chronic nuisance properties” rose to the top of the list of concerns in seven of the nine neighborhood listening sessions and remained a clear “number one” priority throughout a follow-up process with residents participating in Zone Blitz brainstorming sessions.
In partnership with the West Central Neighborhood Alliance, BDS launched a Safe Housing Pilot Program last year. Lessons learned from the volunteer pilot program informed Straw’s proposed rental registration – part of a comprehensive Safe Housing Program.
Straw proposed a no-cost, online registration process for single-family rental properties that would require landlords to register their rental properties with the City. Any service requests would trigger an inspection process. If a violation is found and the property is not registered, a notice of violation for not registering would also be sent. If the owner does not request a hearing, a penalty fee of $200 will be assessed to the property for it not being registered. This would not excuse the violation issues.
“The City brought multiple stakeholders to the table,” explained Tim Smith, Deputy City Manager. “We met with neighborhood leaders and property owner groups such as the Greater Springfield Apartment and Housing Association and individuals who own multiple rental homes, as well as residents throughout the city. There are a lot of interests to balance, but I am optimistic that we have worked together to find common ground. The safety of our residents and heath of our neighborhoods is THE top concern.”
City officials also met with first responders and other organizations providing home-based services, such as City Utilities technicians, home healthcare workers, Parents as Teachers and others, about life safety concerns they are seeing in Springfield homes. They expressed an interest in helping and some expressed relief in creating an alternative for addressing the concerns they say they see on a regular basis.
Those groups will have the ability to report life safety concerns to the City’s Citizen Resource Center, after which time BDS will request permission to inspect and educate the occupant(s) and property owner.
“These individuals will not search or inspect houses seeking life safety issues; they will only be requested to address life-safety concerns witnessed within the scope of their duties,” Straw explains. BDS staff will follow up on the reported concerns that exhibit life safety issues that place occupants at risk. Three tiers of life safety violations have been developed. (See attached document.)
An additional dimension is an expanded partnership with social service providers and the faith community to develop a protocol for accommodating occupants (renters or owners) who may be temporarily relocated due to the most egregious life-safety concerns during the remediation process and cannot afford alternate accommodations during the remediation time. The City will look to its partner, One Door, to assist with coordination of this work.
Straw also proposed changes to how the City defines and responds to dangerous and often vacant buildings/houses. His research revealed the following:
- Increased crime: A study in Austin, Texas found that crime rates on blocks with open or abandoned buildings were twice as high as rates on matched blocks without open buildings.
- Fire: The U.S. Fire Administration reports over 12,000 fires in vacant structures each year in the United States, and the National Fire Protection Association estimates that 6,000 firefighters are injured every year in vacant and abandoned building fires.
- Higher Insurance Premiums: Insurance companies are beginning to look at the proximity of vacant and condemned properties as a “high hazard” based on their underwriting manuals. One national company has indicated that it could lead to a cancellation or non-renewal of an insurance policy on wood structures within 100 feet of a vacant or condemned property.
Straw suggested changes to the adopted International Property Maintenance Code as follows:
- Definition of a Vacant Structure: A structure that is substantially void of personal belongings and furnishings.
- Require free registration of vacant properties in similar fashion to what is proposed for rental property registration.
Based on a complaint, if the vacant structure is found to be in violation of the dangerous building code or nuisance code, the hearing officer may order the boarding of the entire structure with a boarded building permit. The current cost of a boarded building permit is $200 for six months and the boarding cost is assessed against the property.
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For more information, contact Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement Cora Scott at 417-380-3352 or [email protected] or Director of Building Development Services Chris Straw at 417-864-1059 or [email protected].
About the Building Development Services Department
The Department of Building Development Services implements and monitors a variety of city, state, and federal codes, and four trades (electrical, plumbing, gas and mechanical). It also offers essential information for businesses, homeowners, landlords, tenants, contractors, and developers.
- Issuing permits for all phases of building construction
- Implements building codes
- Implements zoning
- Monitors demolition and movement of existing buildings
- Monitors and issues permits for temporary and permanent sign
- Certifies trade crafts (electricians, plumbers, gas, and mechanical licenses)
- Maintains minimum parking ratios
- Implements flood plain ordinances
- Inspects for buffer yards and tree planting in commercial areas
- Implements Dangerous Building Code.