Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fuzzy Process - Fuzzy Results at the Planning Department

Since the City Attorney’s Office recently announced that the city, in the guise of its Planning Department, had received only 6 “valid” complaints regarding illegal rooming houses this year, I decided to verify this number. My call to the Planning Department revealed that, indeed, only six valid complaints were received to date, this year. However, there are problems related to using this number as a gauge of the extent of the spread of illegal rooming houses in the city. At least one candidate, Mr. Snapp (Ward 4 council seat), in his reply to a citizen’s inquiry, has already used the figure of six to soft-pedal the nature and extent of the illegal rooming houses.

To understand the figure, it is important to know that the form (click here to see one) leaves it up to the citizen to characterize the complaint. If the complainant does not characterize his/her request as a violation of the single family zoning law, but says there is a noisy, dirty, rental house next door, then that complaint is classified as a violation of the noise or litter law. Additionally, the complaint cannot go forward if the complainant does not check one of two boxes related to confidentiality. One box indicates that the city can reveal the complainant’s name while the other box requests confidentiality with the proviso that, if the case goes to court, then the complainant’s name will be revealed. Any complaint form which has no petitioner named is also considered invalid. Since I have received several emails from concerned homeowners who are genuinely afraid to confront renters or landlords, it stands to reason that one might hesitate before indicating his/her name that may ultimately be revealed in a court case.

Moreover, in order to characterize the complaint as a violation of the zoning law, one has to know that the current code characterizes a single family home with more than three unrelated adults as a code violation. Even candidate Snapp, in an early email to me said “I don't know where the ‘three unrelated’ term came from that (sic) is in the code?” (click here to read the code) Well, if we have presumably well-informed candidates for office who do not know that about the code, then we can infer that a private citizen might find it difficult to fill out correctly a form asking for redress.

Therefore, if the city wants to use the volume of complaints received on a particular issue, it will have to be more circumspect on the subject of the process that leads to its determinations. If one uses a confusing or unclear process, one cannot base solid conclusions on the data thus derived. I call upon the Planning Department to provide detailed information on filling out the various forms and to post those instructions on the website.


Dave Foote said...

I for one did not know there was a way to complain to the city about illegal rooming houses. At the time that I get more in my neighborhood, which I am unfortunately sure that I will, I will not hesitate to use this form. I will also provide my name so it will be considered a legitimate violation of the zoning law.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the six people who filed a complaint with the City Planning Department this year. I filled out a Code Enforcement Investigation Request, attached a letter giving a narrative of the kinds of municipal code violations that were happening at a rental property next to my home and how this was affecting my quality of life and enjoyment of my home.The kinds of violations ranged from too many unrelated occupants (6), problems with noise and parties, garbage not being disposed of properly, trash and glass being thrown in my yard etc. and so on. I also attached a list of the renters names and phone numbers as proof of number of occupants living in the house.I taked about the problem with parking on my street due to the number of vehicles belonging to this house.
I called the Planning Department to check on the complaint every two weeks and after five or six weeks I was told that the property owner had been notified, had responded and had been warned.I had filled out the enforcement request just before school was out in the summer, so by the time that the request had been investigated, that group of renters had moved out.The property was rented again in July to 3 renters and they have not caused any problems as of yet. My point in posting this reply is to encourage people to file these Code Enforcement Requests and to be clear in stating what codes are being violated and how it is affecting your quality of life.Attach any proof that you may have that the code is being violated. Then continue to contact the Planning Department for follow-up.Be persistent, be polite, be clear with your information.If enough people are willing to come forth we can show the city that we need some changes toward keeping our neighborhoods a great place to live.If we aren't willing to speak up no one will hear us.I am not using my name in this post as I did not want it to be public record on my Code Enforcement Request.