Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Neighbors: Chapter 2

In yesterday’s post I left off where one of the sons had moved out and the other had moved in. Before we get to the second son, let’s speculate on what the city might do about a construction company being run in the neighborhood. In some cities, some larger cities, they wouldn’t stand for it at all. Some citeis will get after you if your weeds get too tall. This ain’t a large city. Living in a small town and dealing with a small town government has some benefits and some draw backs.

From the DIY home owner prospective some of the real benefits are that I can do all my own work. I don’t need a licensced profesionals for water, electrical, natural gas, lead or asbestos abatement, or anything. I can pull all my own permits for any work I want to do on my house. They also won’t get after me if my house is not painted nice, or if some projects take longer than expected and my property is less than pristine. The bad part is when it comes to dealing with people like my neighbors. My neighborhood is zoned RM1000, which is multi-unit residentail. You can build single family homes or multi-unit buildings on a single city lot. Obviously, the construction business is neither of those things. The problem is proving it.

If you don’t get a business license, or if the business is located someplace else and this is a satalite location then how do you prove they are running a business. Is this a case of my word against his? How proactive will the city be to investigate my claim. In my opinion I wrote a very convicneing letter complete with pictures and specific instances of conduct that proves, in my mind anyway, that they are running a construction busniess.

I’ve been told by some long time residence that it doesn’t matter. They tell me the city won’t do a thing to correct the situation. They tell me the city either lacks the backbone or the man power to inforce the city codes and ordinaces in every insatnce. In other instances I’m told that what ever punishment they hand out will be little more than a slap on the wrist and will not be enough to deter my neighbors from continuing the behavior. There is recent evidence that this may be the case.

Two years ago some people bought a house that is on The Local Register of Historic Places. It was a stucco Norman Revival house. The new owners, for what ever reason, decided they wanted to reside with shingles. Without getting permits from the building department, or going before the Historic Preservation Committee, they started to rip off the stucco and reside with shingles. Somebdy complained and they were told by the building department to stop the work and get the proper permits.

To make a long story short, they were denied permisson by the Historic Preservation Committee. They appealed to The City Council and were denied again. It made a lot of press and a lot of people screamed about property rights, but at the end of the day they knew the house was on The List when they bought it and they did not get permits from the city. You can compalin all you want to about the law, but it doesn’t change the law. The owners finished residing the house and the city put some type of covenant on the title to the house saying they would need to restore the structure when it sells. So who inforces this? No one really knows.

Before I went to the city with my complaint on Tuesday I spoke with a member of the city council. I brought up this case and he didn’t even know how it would be inforced. What it seems to come down to is, if you start or finish the work before you get caught you can basically get away with it. It renders the law somewhat useless if it is not enforced. I asked this member of the city council what would happen if I complained to the building department about the unpermitted biuldings. He wasn’t really sure but he said they would not be torn down by the city.

When I checked with the building department a few years ago about my neighbors un-permitted buildings I was told that if I made a complaint the buildings would be required to be brought up to code. In this case that is not possible. All 3 are built right on the property line. Building code requires a set-back of 5-feet from the property line unless you get a variance from the city. To get a variance from the city you have to go befor e the city council and there is a public comment portion. No doubt I would comment. Also, considering they were sighted for operating a junkyard 3 years ago I doubt they would get the variance.

So I asked the city council member what would happen to the buildings if I complained to the city. He said, if they couldn’t be brought up to code then the city would attach a covenant to the title to ensure they were brought up to code before the house is sold. Does this sound familiar? This means that it may never be enforced, or my neighbor could live there for another 30 years without changing a thing. It is less than a slap on the wrist.

I also spoke to the council person about the construction company. He agreed with me that what they are doing goes above and beyond what should be allowable in an RM1000 neighborhood. We talked about people who run home offices or plumbers who run small single-man operations out of their garage. There is some gray area but atleast he agreed with me that what they are doing is not in that gray area. Will the Planning Dept. agree? I don’t know yet.

So going in to this I knew it would not be a slam dunk. There is a real chance that I may come out swinging and hit nothing. If that happens, of course, this could go from bad to worse real fast. If I follow though on all my threats and all they get are some stern letters from city hall it will be open season to do what ever they want over there. So if I knew all this then why did I do it? Well, the alternative is to do nothing and I just can’t do that. I'm not going to roll over and play dead. I'm a property owner and I'm in it for the long haul. I’m not going to let these guys turn the street in to a junkyard. It is a matter of pricipal.

One person told me that the only way to get the city to do anything about it is that I have to complain loadly and often. Eventually they will get sick of hearing me and do something about it. Oh boy.

City Hall is exactly 3 blocks down the street. Council meetings are every other Tuesday and there is a public comment period at the end of every meeting. Any citizen can speak about what ever they want to for 3 minuets in the public comment period. Ugh! I really hope it doesn’t come to that but I'm going to do what it takes. I am home-owner, hear me roar.


Gary said...

You really want change? Run for city council. Then you can do something about your neighbors besides complain. You can force the city inspectors to enforce the code. We have the same problems here. There are a lot of city employees who will crapping bricks if I run for Mayor in 4 years.

Greg said...

Hmmm, run for city council? Suddenly my neighbors don't seem so bad. :-)

Anonymous said...

If it's any consolation, even here in the City That Never Sleeps, people get away with the same crap. There is always another story of someone tearing down an historic building without a permit, which they couldn't get, because the building or area is landmarked, and then they either start to tear it down, or get the building levelled, THEN they get caught. They get called on the carpet by the city, or there is a public uproar, but it's too late, the damage is done, and they know it. Slap on the wrist - NEXT? So frustrating.
Good luck. Maybe you SHOULD run for office.

John said...

This tale of yours clearly illustrates why I hope to live in the middle of 1000 acres one day.

If I were you, I'm not sure how much energy I'd be willing to exert over the issue. Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll get themselves sent to prison for something. I doubt that you are the only person they're rubbing the wrong way.

You might be able to file a civil suit against them if you could prove that they were having a negative impact on your property value, but this might be a long shot (any lawyers out there know?).

Who knows, maybe going to the city council meeting for your 3 minutes might work. Cato, the Roman Senator, slipped in a quick "Besides which, I think Carthage must be destroyed," every time he spoke in the Senate. Eventually, Carthage was destroyed proving that persistance can pay off.

Anyhow, best of luck.

HomeImprovementNinja said...

I'd like a lot of land away from people too. I can throw a brick from my yard and hit my neihbor with it, then they are too close. I should only be able to throw bricks at my neighbors from a moving car.

Keep us informed on what happens to these maniacs.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor ran a landscaping business out of his house.. YEah Large diesel trucks parked on my street all the time. He finally moved out and the guy across the street moved in with his powerwashing business. Ughhhh will I ever be rid of diesel trucks starting up at 6 am ...