ELKHART — The City of Elkhart’s neighborhood planning department held a meeting Saturday morning to reintroduce four code enforcement officers who have been enforcing building codes in Elkhart to members of Neighborhood Associations.
The four code enforcement officers — Trent Avance, Janet Bayes, Linda Stepien and Mayfield Timmons — issue citations to residents and investigate dilapidated properties around Elkhart. But their jobs can also mean contacting banks that own the properties, urging them to repair and maintain vacant houses.
“If you do nothing, it’s going to go down — fast,” said Dennis Correll, building commissioner for the City of Elkhart. “As soon as water gets inside the house, it’s pretty much destroyed.”
It was important to Correll to introduce the code officers, saying, “Most of the people don’t see these code officers — they may see a letter — but these are real people who know what they are doing.”
Yet in spite of the officers’ knowledge and expertise of building codes and violations, one officer said they are more restricted than a neighbor would be. What might take a month for code enforcement officials to accomplish could be taken care of right away by concerned neighbors.
Under Indiana law (IC 34-30-26), a neighbor of a suspected abandoned house may observe a property without entering it to determine if it is abandoned. If it is abandoned, they are allowed to take measures that will keep the structure from becoming uninhabitable, Correll said,
To Correll, those measures include “small stuff,” like taking a few hours to fix gutters, fix shingles or perform small painting projects on nearby abandoned houses.
“This may preserve the property,” Correll said. “Even though you hate to help the banks out, it’s going to help in the long run because that house may become rehabbed and somebody can take care of it.”
Correll also sees neighborhood projects like this as an opportunity to build community in a direct way. “You don’t know a person,” he said, “until you grab a hammer and a nail next to a person with a hammer and a nail.”
To report potential abandoned houses or code violations or for more information, contact Dennis Correll and the City of Elkhart neighborhood planning department at 294-5471.