Code Enforcement

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Public Safety

I know this is a dull subject. But it concerns everything from crime, to property values to the quality of life you can expect as a resident. Des Moines used to have a dedicated Code Enforcement Officer who’s job was to check that all properties were up to code. So, theoretically, if a property was obviously not being take care of, she could ticket them. Unfortunately, Des Moines has some of the weakest code in the entire state as far as upkeep goes. You can literally leave junk on your lawn for months at a time without incurring any penalties. So the Code Enforcement Officer, and police and fire department were often unable to take action when they saw properties in a sorry state. The rule was (and is) that they have to wait until an actual crime is committed in order to deal with obviously bad apples. It is for this reason that I got fed up enough to run for office. The good news is that we can easily fix this problem.

Now why would Des Moines have such weak code enforcement? Two reasons: one is that apartment building and other commercial owners tend to hate code enforcement. They complain that it adds to their costs and is unnecessary because ‘the market will take care of it’. In other words, people won’t rent if they don’t take care of their properties. That’s simply ridiculous.

The other reason is more philosophical. The city council has traditionally had the attitude “a man’s home is his castle.” Obviously, I have a slightly different take on this. Yes, you have your right to do as you please. But you also have a responsibility, as a property owner, to your neighbours to keep your place looking decent and to not infringe on their rights. It’s called courtesy. You can’t leave junk on your front lawn or fail to mow for weeks at a time or let your house fall into total disrepair. It damages the community, is unsafe.

Several years ago the city ended the Code Enforcement Officer position. It also rescinded a number of ordinances that hold rental property owners to a special standard of property upkeep (again, based on complaints from commercial property lobbying). What that means is that when my neighbors and I would complain to the city, we had no way of locating the absentee landlords or hold them accountable for the damage their renters were doing to our street!

We should reinstate the Code Enforcement Officer position. We should also update the city code to make our city’s ordinances on property upkeep in-line with those of other cities. These simple, no-drama changes to our city would save a tremendous amount on policing resources, make the city far more pleasant to live in and make the city far more attractive to prospective home buyers.