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September 01, 2014 | NATIONAL Gordon Wren, Correspondent

Government leaders of villages, towns and cities frequently do not realize the value of strict, but fair code enforcement. A lack of effective enforcement can cause entire neighborhoods to deteriorate into slums and vacant buildings. I've seen this trend repeatedly over the years.

A few years ago, a medium size city in Orange County, New York hired an inspector known for being aggressive in prosecuting illegal landlords. This hiring was precipitated by several serious structure fires in illegal buildings that resulted in "close calls".

Recently, the City of New York experienced several fatalities involving illegal apartments or rooming houses. The city has increased their enforcement efforts dramatically. I was impressed by one of their innovative methods of getting into illegal buildings- which can be very difficult at times. The way I understand it, the inspectors will peruse on-line advertisements for rentals and then inspectors posing as couples will respond to the ads and then be invited in to tour the accommodations- much easier than obtaining a search warrant, and very creative.

The city of Mount Vernon in Westchester County had a series of fatal fires last winter and are reported to have increased their program of routine fire and building safety inspections.

I recently read a newspaper article that reported that the Village of Port Chester, with a population of 30,000, also in Westchester County decided to attack the issue of illegally converted buildings. Their aggressive enforcement program at that time, generated over $400,000 in fines. Kudos to the administrators, inspectors and the judges in that community.

The frequent excuse for not having an effective inspection program, is a lack of funding for the inspections department. I imagine that $400,000 plus, will pay for a great inspection program.

Unless there is an effective deterrent, unscrupulous people will continue to illegally convert buildings without the proper permits, without following the codes and creating extremely dangerous conditions for local firefighters and the occupants of those buildings.

I encourage any fire service leader who observes these conditions in their coverage area to use the Village of Port Chester as an example. Code enforcement needs to be a municipal priority- we owe it to ourselves and to our residents!

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Gordon WrenCorrespondent

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