Michigan Municipal League May/June 2023 Review Magazine
What Is Strategic Code Enforcement? Code enforcement commonly refers to the local government process used to bring private properties into compliance with local property maintenance standards, such as housing and building codes. Traditionally, this process is complaint-based, uses fines and criminal prosecution to obtain compliance, and treats all properties the same. However, this punitive approach is rarely effective (especially in addressing vacant and abandoned properties) and disproportionately harms residents of color through, among other things, overenforcement against vulnerable homeowners and underenforcement against landlords. In contrast, strategic code enforcement seeks to bring properties “up to code” in equitable, efficient, and effective ways by: • Creating different enforcement strategies for different owner types, property types, and neighborhood markets; • Focusing on bringing properties into compliance, rather than collecting fees or punishing property owners; • Addressing property conditions early and proactively; and, • Building relationships with residents and community organizations.
For owner-occupied residential properties in weak housing markets, a strategic code enforcement approach might include providing grants and low-interest loans to low-income homeowners for repairs, sending notices before issuing citations, and connecting homeowners to additional resources and social services. For tenant-occupied properties, this approach might include conducting proactive inspections, partnering with organizations to educate tenants about their rights, and ensuring tenant access to legal services for protection from retaliation. For vacant properties where traditional enforcement approaches have been ineffective, a strategic approach would focus on mitigating harm and working to return the property to productive use. This could include boarding buildings and mowing grass, placing a lien on the property for the full cost of such abatement, and transferring the property to new responsible ownership. As Phil Crowe and LMG learned, effective strategic code enforcement is rooted in a commitment to advancing equity and meeting resident needs. Communities must recognize how unjust, discriminatory policies and practices—including code enforcement—have contributed to current property conditions and concentrated such properties in neighborhoods of color. And they must work with residents and grassroots organizations to craft strategies that seek to repair the harmful effects of these policies and practices.
MAY / JUNE 2023
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