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Camp Verde rejects property code

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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A letter about a house that could perhaps use some paint led to a discussion about the pros and cons of adopting more stringent property maintenance codes last month between the Camp Verde Town Council and the town's staff.

At the heart of the matter was whether the town should consider adopting the International Property Maintenance Code, a set of standards used by several municipalities around the country.

The consensus, both among staff members and elected officials, was that it wasn't in the town's best interest to do so right now.

The issue came up when a Camp Verde resident sent a letter to the town stating that he and his neighbors had concern with a property in his neighborhood.

The home's paint had apparently worn away and there is rotten trim.

The letter went on to describe the home as having "many characteristics with the house Boo Radley lived in in the movie 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'"

The writer mentioned that when the issue came up among neighbors, he had learned of the International Property Maintenance Code.

Town Manager Russ Martin said that he had wanted to check in with the Town Council to see if they had any direction on this issue.

Martin said that some cities had reported success with implementing the code, but that those cities tended to be fairly urban.

"I recognize that we live in a rural community," Martin said. "The question becomes, do we have any business doing building review at that level?"

Martin said that there are indeed some good things in the international code, things that the current town building codes already incorporate.

"If something might generate a safety issue down the road, we have the opportunity, and some would suggest, the obligation to address it," Martin said.

Beyond that, in a rural community, the issue can start to become a kind of slippery slope, he added.

"Think of your back deck: When was the last time you oiled it? Should the town be there telling you when to oil it?"

Martin suggested that having to deal with that kind of review and enforcement would be time consuming and put town staff in the position of having to make subjective decisions.

"Given the staffing needs I would suggest spending time on things that are more imminent," Martin said. "Yes it would be nice to clean up neighborhoods... we're just not there yet."

Camp Verde Building Official Robert Foreman expanded on the things the town already had on the books in terms of enforcement.

"Weeds, trash, vehicles, these are already covered in the town code," Foreman said.

Some of the additional requirements of the international code would make things highly selective and virtually impossible to enforce, Foreman said.

"I don't want to be in the position of standing in someone's yard and telling them they [need to] paint the back wall of their shed," Foreman said. "I don't want to be standing in a living room and telling the lady of the house that her housekeeping standards are not up to my snuff. We'd have to be making value judgements constantly. Enforcement would be an absolute nightmare."

Martin said that town already has a code to address nuisances, there are property rights built into it.

"Even if we said you had to paint your house, we'd have to say why painting is a safety issue," Martin said.

Telling people they have to paint their houses is typically the work of an organization like a homeowners association, Martin said.

Martin said he'd rather see neighbors or something like a church group step up to help instead of wielding a "code-related hammer."

There are also other things that have to be taken into consideration, Martin said, adding that in this particular home mentioned in the letter, the tenant actually wanted help fixing things like the home's roof and that the landlord was less interested.

"Once a landlord lets us in, if it's a situation, that means immediate removal," Martin said. "Things change drastically when the tenant figures things out."

Foreman said there are only three ways to get into a home: If they have the owner's permission, if a person proves they are the legal tenant and gives permission or if there is enough probable cause to obtain an administrative search warrant.

Paint wearing away could be a symptom of bigger issues, Martin said, but he advocated taking probable cause to the extreme.

If a safety issue is found, that means the occupant has to leave the home immediately.

"That doesn't mean they have to leave tonight or tomorrow, it means they have to leave right now," Foreman said.

Council woman Robin Whatley said she felt something like the international code would be a step toward stepping on property rights.

"What this opens us for is to inspect every single house in Camp Verde," Whatley said. "This just sounds like a complete disaster."

Mayor Charlie German said there were also civil legal avenues that could be pursued in cases like this through the courts between parties with a dispute.

"It may take longer than neighbors would like, but it needs a chance to work," German said.

Copyright 2015 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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