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Code enforcement: A potent tool to battle blight, enhance public safety and support vibrant communities

The issue:
Building and housing codes have enormous potential to serve as the front line of defense in communities’ efforts to battle blight. These municipal codes put legal muscle behind the effort to ensure that properties are maintained to a minimum standard that supports community safety and healthy, vibrant neighborhoods. Since the middle of the twentieth century, the standard approach to enforcement of housing and building codes has been an administrative or judicial enforcement proceeding against the named property owner that seeks to force the owner to remedy violations. While the foreclosure epidemic has made code enforcement even more important, it has also clouded ownership and liability issues – undercutting code enforcement efforts and exacerbating issues related to blight. Municipalities need help in developing new strategies and tactics that strengthen and streamline their code enforcement structures and procedures – including creating code enforcement strategies that can be self-financing and do not drain the local budget. To learn more, visit Community Progress' Building American Cities Toolkit.

The tools:
As part of its integrated approach to addressing issues related to vacant, abandoned and problem properties, Community Progress has amassed extensive expertise in creating and deploying effective enforcement strategies. Some strategies target early intervention to stave off deterioration and ensure owner responsibility; others use code enforcement to discourage speculation. Recently, new legislation has begun to be used to strengthen service liability, as a way to prevent the ‘orphaned properties’ syndrome. Community Progress works with localities to determine the best strategy to ensure that properties are well-maintained and appropriately purposed, or that they are wrested from the control of irresponsible owners or title-holders. Community Progress conducts thorough assessments of current codes and enforcement practices to determine strengths and weaknesses, and then recommends solutions tailored to the specific situation of each community.

The resources:
Community Progress provides both information and human resources to aid communities and governments in their quest to create effective code enforcement systems.

  • Information: Community Progress maintains a robust, web-based library of resources that includes both case studies and model local and state legislation. The Center hosts regional and national meetings on the subject of code enforcement and related issues, such as land banking and reuse. These meetings help create active networks where cities and towns learn from one another and often build collaborative relationships that foster efforts to tackle issues across multiple jurisdictions. Equally importantly, the Center’s core staff and consultants draw on their wealth of experience to provide capacity-building and technical assistance in programs specifically designed for communities.


  • Advocacy: Communities must have a clear idea of how various constituencies view new strategies to increase the effectiveness of code enforcement laws and policies – including both points of opportunity and points of obstruction -- In order to use code enforcement as an effective tool to address problem properties. We work with localities to create the necessary alliances to educate constituencies, build alliances, ensure successful passage of legislation or implementation of plans, and create practices on the ground that ensure community support going forward.


  • Consultation: For code enforcement to be effective, communities need to create and employ well-designed legal enforcement procedures, educate residents about ways to use code requirements to tackle problem properties, and support preventive approaches that help property owners understand their responsibilities and remedy issues. Community Progress has extensive experience in creating campaigns built on a strong foundation of education, advocacy and implementation, designed to dovetail with well-crafted code updates and the nurturing of strong community coalitions, to foster a culture of prevention as well as enforcement.

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