Updates to Derby’s property maintenance standards drew a wide range of reactions from council members and citizens on hand at the Oct. 12 city council meeting.
As part of a first reading of proposed amendments to Title 8 of the Derby Municipal Code, Director of Public Works Robert Mendoza discussed the changes to property maintenance standards with the Derby City Council.
While the previous standards focused on appearance only, the changes would take health and safety into account as well. The amendments would also still focus increased enforcement solely on the exterior of both residential and commercial buildings.
Previously, the property code focused on preventing animal infestations, overgrown weeds/grass and bulky waste piling up on residences. The amendments would also address mold/mildew, brick and mortar damage, peeling paint, deteriorated shingles, corroded metal surfaces and a few other items.
“The question is do we want to be able to deal with these types of issues in our neighborhoods for the benefit of the neighborhood,” Mendoza said. “When you have neighborhoods that are cohesive, that there is a base level of maintenance, the whole neighborhood is improved and it is better off.”
Based on research of a number of policies in both Kansas and Missouri communities, Mendoza reported that many have adopted the International Property Maintenance Code. With that comes a number of guidelines for the interior of buildings (mainly affecting residential rental properties). Not wanting to get that in-depth, Mendoza said amendments were drafted keeping focus on exterior issues.
Exterior issues remain the bulk of the complaints city staff hear from residents, Mendoza said, with the number of complaints increasing over the past year.
“One thing begets another if they’re left unchecked for a long time,” Mendoza said. “The sooner we can engage, the sooner we can help solve some of these long-term issues.”
Currently, inspectors identify property maintenance issues from the street or through complaints received. Notice is then given to property owners, with action required within 5-7 days (depending on state statutes).
Enforcement is handled by the Derby Municipal Court, with the new property codes projected to be in place by 2022. While those amendments are not expected to impact staffing levels, they may cause a rise in court cases. However, Mendoza noted city staff regularly work with individuals in violation of codes if issues arise.
“At every step of this process, our goal is to help people understand what the codes are, what options are available to them,” Mendoza said. “Our ultimate goal is compliance without enforcement if at all possible.”
Most property issues seen currently deal with vacant properties or rentals, according to assistant city manager Kiel Mangus.
If homeowners do not comply and the issue is taken to court, staff noted the court will still work with individuals to complete required repairs – connecting them with local churches, the city’s neighborhood revitalization program, etc., as needed. An appeal process is also in place.
Those issues of homeowners with code violations not being able to pay for repairs are part of what drew the concern of Derby residents Sussie Crespo and Christopher Foote, who spoke against the property code amendments during public forum.
Foote and Crespo don’t see property maintenance as an issue to be addressed by the government. They also noted that the home they purchased three years ago – which required a $25,000 investment to fix an issue with the chimney – would have been in violation of the new amendments. While they were able to address the issue, they worried what would happen to fellow residents unable to do so.
“We know a lot of our friends and neighbors don’t really have that kind of ability to make an investment of that size, especially right after purchasing a home,” Foote said. “I believe that those [property code] additions are a little bit of an overreach of our government and will disproportionately affect the elderly and low income.”
Meanwhile, fellow Derby resident Paul Shaver saw the amendments as a benefit. He said the current codes don’t go far enough and hopes the change will be detailed enough to address all the issues seen throughout Derby.
Council members Nick Engle and Andrew Swindle understood the concerns regarding overreach, but both also realized the rising complaints cannot be ignored, with Engle noting that “we don’t create an ordinance in a vacuum.”
A second reading for the amendments to the municipal code concerning property maintenance was scheduled for consideration at a later city council meeting.