CSAO: Public Safety and Security Committee - February 16, 2017 - H.B. No. 5177

Public Safety and Security Committee - February 16, 2017 - H.B. No. 5177




February 16, 2017

The Division of Criminal Justice strongly supports the concept behind H.B. No. 5177, An Act Incorporating the International Property Maintenance Code into the State Building Code, and respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE SUBSTITUTE REPORT for the reasons set forth below.

The Division of Criminal Justice has the constitutional responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of all criminal matters in the State of Connecticut. This includes violations of the state building code along with many other state and local codes. A small but highly specialized unit of "housing prosecutors" handles these matters throughout the state by assisting and reaching out to municipalities through training on landlord-tenant criminal disputes and in the enforcement of building, fire prevention, public health, housing, zoning and blight laws. The overall policy goal of housing prosecution is to promote full and prompt compliance with health and safety laws, which are enabled with due process to protect persons, properties and communities. Prevention of injury and illness is far superior to first response.

Since 2015, the Division of Criminal Justice has actively held a seat on the Advisory Council of the State Health Improvement Plan, "Healthy CT 2020," also referred to as the SHIP. It is a statewide plan to identify, based on known health indicators those primary factors negatively affecting the overall well-being of the public, to propose effective policy and program changes to reverse those negative factors and to implement the required changes by the year 2020. The SHIP is powered by a coalition of more than three-hundred agencies and organizations, which have invested magnificent effort over the last two years in creating a plan for a healthier Connecticut. (See www.ct.gov/dph/HCT2020.)

This is all directly related to the proposed adoption of a property maintenance code as envisioned in H.B. No. 5177. The SHIP coalition’s planning and action teams recognized that it was necessary to address conditions in the existing housing stock because environmental factors arising from substandard housing are identified both here and nationally as a primary factor negatively affecting health. A state property maintenance code was proposed to counteract that influence. The goal: secure health equity for all our people by providing an effective and uniform base standard for existing property, which would require minimally safe and healthy housing. Maternal and child advocates gave immediate support, because children, like many others with physical limitations, spend the majority of their time indoors. Connecticut strives to eliminate homelessness, to stabilize those with mental health and substance abuse problems, many of whom end up in our criminal justice system, and to stabilize those re-entering society after incarceration. In other words, we recognize the basic needs of all persons for decent, safe and sanitary housing, and so with strong and broad SHIP coalition approval, the SHIP Advisory Council voted to proceed in 2017 on the adoption of a Connecticut Property Maintenance Code.

There certainly are several other codes already in place, so the question arises as to why we need another, and, particularly, why a state property maintenance code. The Division of Criminal Justice housing prosecutors enforce existing laws governing public health and safety, so we are keenly aware of the limits of each of those laws and the resulting gaps in the protection of the public. There is a gap in protection because none of our existing codes addresses routine maintenance of properties. The State Building Code, enforced through local building officials, primarily addresses new construction, alterations and additions to structures. The Fire Safety and Prevention Codes, enforced by local fire marshals, address matters of fire prevention and safety but not things like leaky roofs causing mold and triggering asthma or interior destruction of walls or ceilings. The Public Health Code, enforced through municipal and district directors of health, addresses food service, lead poisoning prevention, water, septic issues, and more, but has only a few basic health nuisance provisions that apply to existing housing maintenance, and a few public health enforcement statutes in General Statutes Section 47a-50 to 47a-55, which contain antiquated and outmoded rental housing maintenance standards.

The Division of Criminal Justice has long supported the adoption of a state property maintenance code. In 2008-2009, we participated in a large working group of government and private parties interested in drafting a Property Maintenance Code based on the 2006 International Code Council’s International Property Maintenance Code as subsequently updated.

We respectfully propose substitute language to H.B. No. 5177 as we do not recommend incorporation of a Property Maintenance Code into the State Building Code, though the two would be compatible. Instead, we recommend adopting a Property Maintenance Code through an amendment to Section 47a-50 to 47a-55. These public health statutes have been setting minimum standards for rental properties since 1949, and are in dire need of an update. We recommend retaining the provisions in this part for appeal, penalties, and the delegation of enforcement to local health directors, with an option of transferability locally (as set forth in Section 47a-55). This will allow municipalities continued flexibility in choosing which official locally is best suited to enforce a Property Maintenance Code.

The Division of Criminal Justice strives daily with state and local law enforcement to secure safe and healthy communities, which very much depends upon living without crime. We have reviewed data and studies that routinely show the mutual influence of substandard housing and levels of crime. For example, a 2015 Pennsylvania study found that remediating abandoned, inner city buildings reduces crime and violence in surrounding areas.

(See http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2015-jul-new-penn-study-finds-that-building-remediation-works).

This study was supported in part with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and was co-authored by Danya Keene, PhD, of the Yale University School of Public Health and Bernadette Hohl, PhD, of the Rutgers University School of Public Health and School of Criminal Justice. It found a significant decrease in serious and nuisance crimes in areas around remediated buildings after Philadelphia began enforcing an ordinance requiring owners of abandoned buildings to improve their facades and install working doors and windows. Over the 12-month average follow-up period in the study, there was an estimated 19 percent reduction in assaults, 39 percent reduction in gun assaults, and a 16 percent reduction in nuisance crimes in areas around abandoned buildings that were remediated. This shows us that cities can directly impact some of their most pressing public health challenges, including violence, by addressing issues with the places where their residents live, work, and play.

In conclusion, the Division of Criminal Justice respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE SUBSTITUTE REPORT for H.B. No. 5177 incorporating substitute language that will be provided to the Committee. The Division wishes to thank the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide testimony on this important issue. We would be happy to provide any additional information the Committee might require or to answer any questions that you might have.

Content Last Modified on 2/15/2017 3:04:31 PM