Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Citizen-Led Code Enforcement: KC's Volunteer Inspector Program

By Seann McAnally
South Kansas City residents who are worried about code violations in their neighborhoods can now do something about it other than calling 3-1-1.
The Volunteer Inspector Program (VIP) is a city program that empowers neighborhoods to hold accountable owners who do not keep their properties up to code. Essentially, the program trains volunteers to notice and document codes violations.
“We can’t be everywhere,” said Carla Finch, of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Services department. “You pretty much know and see what’s going on in your neighborhood, so if you see violations you can let the city know.”
Currently, residents can call the city’s 3-1-1 service to report codes violations such as weeds, trash, peeling paint, and similar issues. But that can take up to 90 days, Finch said.
“This is much faster than going through 3-1-1,” Finch said, adding that most violations will be cleaned up in about 10 days after a citizen inspector reports them.
The way the program works is that neighbors – ideally a group, such as a homes association – can call Finch at 513-9039 to set up a training session. An employee of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Services department will schedule a session and come out to train volunteer citizen inspectors.
The volunteers attend a short training class, where they are informed about how to properly document codes violations.
“We ask that volunteers ensure they have the correct address, date, and violations documented on a 8.5 by 11 dry erase board or notebook,” said Mike Schumacher, assistant to the director of the Neighborhood and Community Services department. “The citizen inspector photographs this document and then photographs the property.”
And that’s all they’re to do, he said.
“They are not to leave the sidewalk of the street, and are not authorized to walk around the subject property,” Schumacher cautioned.
The citizen inspector would then submit those photos to the city, who will notify the property owner of the violation. After 10 days, the violations will be issued to a contractor for cleanup, and the city bills the property owner.
The citizen inspectors need to provide their own equipment, including cameras.
Orrin Ellis, of the KC Neighborhood Advisory Council, said he’s a big believer in the program.
“We’re trying to get every HOA involved in this,” Ellis said. “It makes them more self-sufficient and self-reliant in taking care of their own neighborhoods.”
Gary Kempf, president of the Terrace Lake Gardens Homes Association, said he hopes people in his area will want to get involved. He said people often don’t like to tattle on their neighbors, but they’re actually performing a service to the community when they do.
“You’re not being a busybody when you report codes violations,” he said. “In fact you’re being a responsible citizen.”
April Cushing, of the Ruskin neighborhoods, was trained in the program last year and said it’s been a big help in getting codes violations cleaned up in a more timely manner.
“These violations are usually in homes that are owned by absentee landlords,” Cushing said. “They can drive down everyone else’s property values and give a neighborhood a bad feel.”
Finch urged residents who are interested in setting up a training session to call her office at 513-9039 if they have more questions, or they can email her at carla.finch@kcmo.org.

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