TESTIMONY OF THE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
IN SUPPORT OF:
Proposed H.B. NO. 6955 AN ACT ADOPTING THE INTERNATIONAL PROPERTY MAINTENANCE CODE
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND SECURITY
February 14, 2019
The Division of Criminal Justice strongly supports the concept of Proposed H.B. No. 6955, An Act Adopting the International Property Maintenance Code, and respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT for the reasons set forth below.
Let us start by recognizing that in our commitment to the public health and safety, prevention of injury and illness is far superior to any first response. As such, since 2013 the Division of Criminal Justice has actively participated in the development of the State Health Improvement Plan, “Healthy CT 2020,” referred to as the “SHIP” herein. The SHIP identifies and addresses those primary factors negatively affecting the overall well-being of the public, proposes effective and achievable policy and program changes to reverse those negative factors and takes steps to implement the required changes by the year 2020. The SHIP is a statewide plan, led by the Department of Public Health and powered by a coalition of more than six hundred governmental and private organizations and individuals from diverse backgrounds, both traditional and non-traditional to the public health, who have invested time, expertise and great effort to making the vision of a safer and healthier Connecticut a reality.
This is all directly related to the adoption of a property maintenance code as proposed in H.B. No. 6955. The SHIP’s planning and action teams recognized from the onset that environmental hazards arising from substandard housing are primary factors negatively affecting public health and well being. That was affirmed by our examination of state medical and injury data in relation to substandard housing, particularly in relation to lead poisonings and hospitalizations for chronic and acute asthma. We also examined extensive national data based studies by experts in medicine, energy and housing. The SHIP coalition recognized that this harmful effect is disproportionally and discriminatorily afflicting the most vulnerable populations in our state: children, elders and disabled, who spend a majority of time in the home, as well as our lower socio-economic households living in substandard housing conditions. Therefore, and with widespread support, the SHIP coalition proposed the adoption of a state property maintenance code as an action step to counteract that influence. The goal: secure health equity in Connecticut by providing an effective and uniform base standard for the maintenance of existing property. And in related affect, well maintained properties are economically efficient; averting loss in property value to the surrounding community and the increased risk of criminal activity, which nestles well in dilapidated housing areas.
Let’s address the question of why Connecticut should adopt yet another safety code to accomplish this laudable goal. Our aging housing stock is where most of our people live, but it presents challenges to health, safety and energy efficiency as 45 percent of housing was built before 1950, and more than 70 percent is more than 50 years old. Yet, we have no effective code or standard for the maintenance of structures after they are built. We presently have three kinds of state property related codes: the State Building Code, the State Fire and Prevention Codes and the State Health Code, none of which suffice in regulating the maintenance of property. The State Building Code, enforced through municipal building officials, primarily applies to new construction, major alterations and additions to structures. Commissioner Melody A. Currey’s testimony for the Department of Administrative Services in 2017 on a similar bill to this (H.B. 5177) stated: “When a local official issues a certificate of occupancy at the end of a construction project, his or her role with that structure is complete.” The Fire Safety and Fire Prevention Codes, enforced by municipal fire marshals, apply only to standards related to fire prevention and safety, but are silent on other property failures such as defective interior walls from leaky roofs, commonly resulting in indoor mold which is a known trigger for a reported 40 percent of asthma cases. The Public Health Code, enforced through municipal and district directors of health, covers food service, lead poisoning prevention, water quality, septic standards, and much more, but has only a few basic and nuisance-based provisions that apply to existing building maintenance. There is no state property maintenance code, leaving it to the discretion of municipalities under the Municipal Powers Act as to whether or not to have a local code and the extent of its provisions. Recognizing the need to have a minimal standard for the maintenance of properties, many municipalities and all of our largest ones have adopted and enforce some version of a property maintenance code, however not all municipalities have done so, and so there is no minimal protection or standard for existing property in those areas, estimated to be a third of our state. This checkered and differential layout of codes causes confusion to landlords who own properties in multiple towns or cities, as well as to tenants and the courts in adjudicating the rights and responsibilities tied to these provisions.
The closest code or standard Connecticut has in place to address minimum standards for maintenance in existing housing is a group of rental property provisions in General Statutes Chapter 833a, “Public Enforcement of Health and Safety Standards in Tenement and Boarding Houses, and in Rented Dwellings.” Enacted in 1949, these provisions mandate enforcement by local boards of health, whose powers devolve upon the health authority as it may be known (health departments and districts). It can be noted that opponents of the enactment of a state property maintenance code categorize it as a new mandate. That statement is contrary and in blatant disregard of the property maintenance mandates in this longstanding chapter. CGS Chapter 833a existing mandates are nonetheless ineffective for two reasons. First, there is insufficient support for public health and safety officials at the state and local level for proper administration and enforcement, and for landlords to cooperatively comply with minimal maintenance requirements for existing housing. Second, the Chapter 833a maintenance requirements are overly broad, lack prescriptive language to be effective and are antiquated; containing many outmoded housing maintenance standards.
The Division of Criminal Justice has long supported the adoption of a state property maintenance code. We respectfully suggest adopting the ICC International Property Maintenance Code as a Connecticut Property Maintenance Code, by repealing CGS Chapter 833a and replacing it with the ICC International Property Maintenance Code as the legislature sees fit to amend it for Connecticut use. We recommend retaining from Chapter 833a the provisions for appeal, penalty, and the delegation of enforcement to local health, with flexibility to share or transfer the obligations of enforcement locally as the municipality deems appropriate, as currently set forth in CGS section 47a-55.
In conclusion, the affect of unsafe or ill maintained properties is widespread and clear: preventable injury and illness to the people, loss of economic value of property, and expense of medical and related services in cases which data proves is disproportionally affecting those in disadvantaged communities. The Division of Criminal Justice respectfully recommends the Committee move forward with H.B. No. 6955. We thank the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide testimony on this important public health and safety bill. Our office would be pleased to provide supplemental information or assistance should the Committee so require.