A proposed change in the Columbus building code could result in faster corrective action regarding hazardous property violations.

A proposed change in the Columbus building code could result in faster corrective action regarding hazardous property violations.

City officials say they plan to strengthen the law to address commercial and residential properties that pose an immediate danger, such as a crumbling building, but not for routine code offenses.

"This code change will allow a greater number of city departments to more effectively meet the needs of our residents," said Councilwoman Eileen Paley, chair of the judiciary and court administration committee. "This will improve the safety in our neighborhoods by increasing the efficiency of the city attorney's office and bring dangerous or blighted structures into compliance with Columbus codes."

The legislation, which soon will be introduced to city council, basically pertains to the building-services division, which examines buildings to make sure they're structurally sound, city attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer said.

Currently, when building inspectors observe a violation, the property owner is sent a formal notice, Pfeiffer said. The initial process could take up to 120 days before an unresolved matter is taken to court. In some cases, when the property owner can't be found, it drags on much longer, Pfeiffer said. The new law should shorten the process time by 90 days.
"This provision probably will not be used that often," he said.

In one recently cited case, a fire badly damaged a Parsons Avenue property that was abandoned and left to sit open, empty and deteriorating, Pfeiffer said. Building inspectors said they had mailed a notice of violation to multiple addresses, but the mailing always was returned unclaimed. Inspectors believed that the owner simply didn't respond to certified mail, he said.

If the law passes, Columbus Public Health and the Columbus Division of Fire, in addition to building services, could use the accelerated enforcement method. Pfeiffer said he understands the concerns of some residents, but the city has no intention of being draconian about it.

"We're not taking away your right of due process," he said. "This guarantees due process. A person alleged to be in violation will receive notice and be given the opportunity to be heard in court, and the city has to prove its case."

The neighborhood-services division, generally known as code enforcement, already has the ability to use the accelerated method to get people into court, but that procedure was used only 60 times out of the 14,046 citations issued in 2009, Pfeiffer said.

"In an overwhelming number of cases, the owners get with the program and fix the violation," he said.

Ian MacConnell, president of the University Area Commission, said he isn't familiar with the legislation and that his group hasn't discussed the matter. He said the law sounds promising, though.

"Anything that helps the process go faster and brings the property owner to the table to address issues around safety and housing, I'm personally for," MacConnell said.