Fifteen Steps to Effective Code Enforcement Public Deposited

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  • Burby, Raymond J.
    • Other Affiliation: DeBlois Chair of Urban and Public Affairs and Professor of Planning, College of Urban and Public Affairs, University of New Orleans
  • May, Peter J.
    • Other Affiliation: Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Washington
  • Few would argue with the assertion that urban crime is out of control in cities across the United States. The less-told story is the crisis in another type of crime: violations of building, environmental and land-use regulations. Yet here the evidence of system failure is equally stark. In North Carolina, recent reviews of compliance with erosion and sedimentation control permits (Burby et al. 1990) and coastal permits (Brower and Ballenger 1991) revealed rates of violation in excess of 50 percent. Reports from other states are equally distressing and the consequences especially tragic. In south Florida following Hurricane Andrew, fully a quarter of the more than $20 billion in property losses was attributed to shoddy construction not in compliance with the building code (Building Performance Assessment Team 1992). In Kansas City in 1980, 113 people were killed and 200 others injured when the skywalk in the Hyatt Regency Hotel collapsed, due to design faults, according to some reports, that were not caught by the code enforcement system (Waugh and Hy 1995). Twenty-three years ago, Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky wrote in their classic book, Implementation (famous for its subtitle: How Great Expectations in Washington Are Dashed in Oakland Or Why It's Amazing Federal Programs Work at All This Being a Saga of the Economic Development Administration as Told by Two Sympathetic Observers Who Seek to Build Morals on the Foundations of Dashed Hopes) that even the most carefully thought out programs often failed to accomplish their ends because of glitches in the way they were carried out. Planners, who spend untold hours crafting new land-use regulations and ever more detailed development permit conditions, have yet to learn this lesson, since they spend little time thinking about whether permit conditions will ever be fulfilled. In part, this neglect may stem from ignorance of what to do to make enforcement more effective. Some attention has been given to the use of financial performance guarantees to assure compliance (e.g., Feiden et al. 1989), but key texts such as The Practice of Local Government Planning (So and Getzels 1988), Urban Land Use Planning (Kaiser et al. 1995), Managing Community Growth (Kelly 1993), and Growth Management Principles and Practice (Nelson and Duncan 1995) make no mention of enforcement, and only one Planning Advisory Service (PAS) Memo has been prepared on this subject (see Kelly 1988). This article has two purposes. One is to urge planners to pay more attention to code enforcement. The other is to suggest concrete steps local governments can take to improve the chances that building and development regulations will be followed by developers and building contractors. These suggestions are based on the results of a national survey of city and county building departments and an analysis of the code enforcement practices of thirty-three North Carolina local governments.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Article
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
Journal title
  • Carolina Planning Journal
Journal volume
  • 22
Journal issue
  • 1
Page start
  • 35
Page end
  • 40
  • English
Digital collection
  • Carolina Planning Journal
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