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Code enforcement concerns voiced at council meeting

Aug 31, 2017 09:14AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Firefighter paramedics Ian Nelson (not shown) and Joshua Ray Peterson, and Capt. Lyndsie M. Hauck were awarded their Fire Officer Designation. (Jessica Parcell/City Journals)

Gallery: council meeting [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Jessica Parcell | j.parcell@mycityjournals.com

During a recent city council meeting in July, councilman Kevin Rapp came forward with a concern he felt strongly about: code enforcement in the city of South Salt Lake. 

Rapp focus was SSL City code 8.14.170 Authority to Inspect. The code states:

“Enforcement officials are authorized, in accordance with applicable law, to enter upon any property or premises to ascertain whether the provisions of the city of South Salt Lake Municipal Code are being obeyed and to make any reasonable examination or survey necessary to determine compliance with the city of South Salt Lake Municipal Code.”

This may include the officer taking photographs, samples, or physical evidence for further inspection to ensure that the owner of the property is keeping their home in accordance with city standards. However, Rapp seemed bother by its broad description, and worried if there were a possible loophole for “unlawful search and seizure.” Rapp said this has been bothering him for some time.

“For an ordinance officer, they can come onto my property any time they want to—according to our ordinance—and search it anytime they want to,” Rapp said. “If a police officer needs a warrant, why shouldn’t an ordinance officer need a warrant?”

Councilman Ben Pender felt that there was a difference between coming onto a person’s property and searching versus coming onto a property and viewing. 

“I think they’re coming onto your property to view,” Pender said. “If they receive a complaint, I think they have an obligation to come onto the property to view.”

He said that changes if the enforcement officer starts searching the property, but he felt searching and viewing were two different things.

Pender said he felt that the city has an obligation to come out and inspect a property’s tall weeds if they present a potential fire hazard to make sure the owners are in compliance with city code. In the case that some damage was caused, he would think the city could be held somewhat liable for not coming out to inspect in the first place.

Deputy City Attorney Hannah Vickery had her own concerns about the discussion to define the conditions of the code more. She said that being more specific might present potential legal dangers long-term for the city code.

“One thing to keep in mind when you draft an ordinance is it’s always impossible to think of every circumstance,” Vickery said. “If you get real specific you’re going to miss a circumstance that they’re going to come across, and then someone could then use your code to sue you in court.”

Just before the meeting adjourned, Vickery expressed that the code that is currently in place is legal with some flexibility, but to narrow down on the specifics she believed would paint them into a corner and could ultimately hold the city liable for a situation that is not accounted for in the amendment. 

Along with the discussions of the evening, the city fire department presented paramedics Ian Nelson and Joshua Ray Peterson, as well as Capt. Lyndsie M. Hauck with their Fire Officer Designation. 

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