Shouting "Code Violation!" in a Fire

Remember that famous Onion gag about the libertarian who nonetheless calls on public fire departments? The story of Dr. Herman Weiss illuminates why it sometimes isn't a good idea to alert public servants to your troubles: Weiss, a doctor in West Hempstead, NY--who, in a lovely twist, had to run away from the wife and six kids he'd just saved to do a 6 a.m. baby delivery--gets cited by building inspectors post-fire. The doc and his family were hit with citations for "a discrepancy in plumbing plans and living in the house without a certificate of occupancy."

UPDATE: The link on "gets cited" had been changed to a longer, more detailed version of the news story, as discussed in comments.

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  • Ayn Rand||

    There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted -- and you create a nation of law-breakers -- and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system...that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be easier to deal with.

  • ||

    So, did the plumbing violation consist of a drain line that was moved, or a gas line that was improperly installed and started the fire in the first place?

    That would seem to be an important distinction in figuring out whether this is as silly as it appears at first blush.

  • ||

    Joe--This longer version of the story:
    http://www.newsday.com/news/local/nassau/ny-lifire0112,0,2400705.story?coll=ny-entertainment-package
    doesn't indicate anything of the sort. Which is of course not a GUARANTEE it isn't the case, but I think adds some weight to the notion that the citations were irrelevant to the fire.

  • ||

    joe's right, but all the short article said was "plumbing violations." Could a gas line count as plumbing, though?

  • ||

    Whoop, beaten by Mr. Doherty.

  • Paul||

    Did he fill out a Twenty-Seven B-stroke-six?

    You can't work on your ducts without a Twenty-Seven B-stroke-six.

    But seriously...

    I'm (kind of) with joe on this one. I'm wondering what brought this to the attention of officials. I mean, we laugh when the firefighters find a basement with 12,000 marijuana plants, but I'm thinking something really obvious brought this to their attention. I'm RTFA now...

  • ||

    Will his home owner's insurance pay if he didn't have a occupancy cert?

  • ||

    I'm wondering what brought this to the attention of officials.

    I've learned in my relatively short life that there are some people who will enforce a rule in any situation in which the rule can possibly be applied; there's no question of degree with these types of people.

  • Jennifer||

    Just stop pretending that bullshit rules like "certificates of occupancy" are intended to benefit those who are forced to get them. It's about more money for the government and one more law that an otherwise law-abiding citizen can be cited for breaking.

    Does anybody here recall the case last year, where a couple somewhere like Bumfark, Missouri, were denied a "certificate of occupancy" for the house they'd bought because they were not legally married?

  • ||

    The fire began on the outside of the house, near a vent opening for the home's water heater...The plumbing violation stems from a discrepancy in building plans, which originally called for a boiler and a water heater, Deery said. An independent electrical inspection in November 2006 verified the boiler and heater, but investigators found the charred remains of two boilers at the site Friday.

  • ||

    People more familiar with building inspections than with Ayn Rand novels realize that Certificates of Occupancy are required so that the city can confirm that buildings are constructed according to standards which prevent, for example, the installation of mickey-mouse gas works that might set one or more houses on fire.

  • Paul||

    Ok, I'm backing off a little. The article doesn't really say. The longer article makes it sound like 1. They discovered that the house didn't have a certificate of occupancy (to be said with your best regimental German accent) and then 2. Once #1 was discovered, they did further research and found the code violations, leaving the good doctor with a really big pile of #2.


    Weiss also said the home's contractor, Anthony Farella of West Hempstead,



    Why do I picture a very large man with a cigar in his mouth?
    And I don't consider "plumbing" to be lumped in with gas lines, so I think that theory is dead.

    It just sounds unfortunate all around.

    Oh and joe, this adds a little to your quote:

    but investigators found the charred remains of two boilers at the site Friday, according to town building officials, who added that high-end houses often require many revisions in plans.

    So the question that remains is, was this fire because the good doctor (or his contractor) had violated a code, ie put in faulty equipment, or was it something that might have happened regardless?


  • ||

    Oh, I get it, joe. Since he's not a democrat he doesn't get off the hook. Riiiight.

  • Paul||

    Jennifer:

    The problem you cite is that often, regulations which are based on good reasons (again, I'm with joe on the general idea of the C of O), but then can be utilized by small, local tyrants to make life harder for the local populace.

    I have postulated this theory many times, that the rules put in place are often not bad in and of themselves, but they create a conduit by which every petty local official can make your life difficult for reasons other than the purpose of the regulation.

  • ||

    Paul,

    You might not consider gas lines to be plumbing, but the building trades and building codes call them exactly that.

    sage,

    I don't see why you have to drag partisanship into everything. I have no idea what anyone's party is. Someday, I'm going to post using another name, just to see how short the threads are when people can't write "Yoor just a partisan" when they can't rebut my points.

  • Ben||

    I had never even heard of a C of O until now. How is that different than having a deed to the house?

  • Paul||

    You might not consider gas lines to be plumbing, but the building trades and building codes call them exactly that.

    Thanks for the correction, joe. Good to know.

  • Jennifer||

    The problem you cite is that often, regulations which are based on good reasons (again, I'm with joe on the general idea of the C of O), but then can be utilized by small, local tyrants to make life harder for the local populace.

    I have postulated this theory many times, that the rules put in place are often not bad in and of themselves, but they create a conduit by which every petty local official can make your life difficult for reasons other than the purpose of the regulation.

    Indeed, except that for-your-own-good laws seem far more easily corrupted than others. It's like seatbelt laws--I have always worn my seatbelt for my own reasons, but damned if I need to be legally required to. (Likewise, in cold weather I button my coat all the way up to my chin, but don't need the government mandating it and imprisoning me if I'm not dressed warmly enough for the weather.)

    Personally, if I built a house (or had one built for me, or bought one pre-made), I'd damn sure want an inspector to check it out for me. I just don't need the government ordering me to have my house inspected "for my own good." And this citation here seems purely spiteful; hasn't he suffered enough already? That's like giving a speeding ticket to a driver who's already been paralyzed for life by the accident his speeding caused.

    Yeah, I know the old canard: "the laws are fine; we just need to get the right people in charge of them."

  • ||

    Paul,

    Oddly enough, it is the very specificity of the regulations - specificity intended to check the power of building inspectors by limiting their ability to act subjectively - that brings about the problem you describe.

    If a particular local tyrant wants to screw with a builder or homeowner, it is a lot easier for him to to prove to the Board of Appeals that you are out of complaince with some subsection than to prove that there is something wrong with some gas plumbing that was prudently and professionally installed.

  • Jennifer||

    I had never even heard of a C of O until now. How is that different than having a deed to the house?

    With a deed, you own the house but do not have the government's written permission to live in it.

  • ||

    Personally, if I built a house (or had one built for me, or bought one pre-made), I'd damn sure want an inspector to check it out for me.

    This father of six doesn't seem to have felt the same way.

  • ||

    joe, your sarcasm detector is out of whack...for a democrat.

  • Jennifer||

    This father of six doesn't seem to have felt the same way.

    And thus the government needs to punish him For His Own Good.

    How the devil did humanity manage to avoid extinction before we invented government to protect us from ourselves?

  • ||

    In Pennsy, a home seller must obtain a COE before closing. The one time I sold a house, the township inspector spent approximately 30 seconds in my 25-year old home before issuing the COE. Needless to say, he did not spend a lot of time looking for code violations. I was happy to get the check the box, but unimpressed with the process.

    However, both times I have bought homes, I paid for home inspections. I found these experiences much more value adding than the COE. The inspector spent a couple of hours examing the house from top to bottom, inside and out and he pointed our numerous potential code violations or other areas for home improvement projects. I also received very nice reference material with tons of information on home maintenance, etc.

    Impossible to draw conclusions from this very small sample, but my personal experience is the COE was a waste of time while the home inspection was worth every penny.

  • ||

    This is a quick blog link to a newspaper story; no fresh reporting done, by me or by Joe, obviously. And we are both clearly coming in with some prejudices, clear to readers of my writings and Joe's. However, it does seem that the weight of inference here, barring strong ideological biases on the part of the NEWSDAY reporter, is that if the citations had a direct connection to the fire, that the quoted officials would have said that to the reporter, and he would have quoted them saying so. This does NOT mean what Joe is saying is unequivocally not true. Just that the reasonable inference from the story as reported is mine, not his.

  • Paul||

    joe,

    I'm going to go out on a limb here (and I admit it may be a long one) but my main problem with building codes is not the idea behind them (Building codes are one of the areas I, as a libertarian, really have no problem with-- it sometimes gets my card revoked) it's that like so many other regulations of the locality, they're almost impossible to completely comply with. See the story of the police officer telling the reporters that there is no possible way a law-abiding citizen can comply with all the driving codes, so they'd better hope that the cop driving behind them is having a good day.

    I believe we could use some reform in the area of enforcement and the like. Some reforms have been enacted- like those which give the property owner 60/90 days to comply with the code instead of getting an instant citation. These reforms were brought around specifically because law-makers realized that it's nearly impossible to comply with everything.

  • ||

    the rules put in place are often not bad in and of themselves, but they create a conduit by which every petty local official can make your life difficult for reasons other than the purpose of the regulation.

    That's odd; that coincides almost perfectly with my definition of a rule which is in and of itself bad.

  • Jennifer||

    The one time I sold a house, the township inspector spent approximately 30 seconds in my 25-year old home before issuing the COE.

    And thank heavens he did, or else you'd be in a lot of legal trouble. But remember: it's For Your Own Good!

  • Paul||

    biases on the part of the NEWSDAY reporter, is that if the citations had a direct connection to the fire, that the quoted officials would have said that to the reporter, and he would have quoted them saying so.

    This was my point in my first post. The article doesn't seem to indicate, or tie the technical code violations to the fire itself.

  • ||

    Personally, if I built a house (or had one built for me, or bought one pre-made), I'd damn sure want an inspector to check it out for me.

    This father of six doesn't seem to have felt the same way.


    When we bought our current house, we of course, had an inspector go through the place top-to-bottom, pre-sale. Needless to say, these guys aren't perfect.

    We replaced the water heater soon after and the installer told us that he couldn't continue since the venting, which was shared with the furnace, wasn't up to code and is a fire hazard. Having just sold a house where things weren't up to code when we bought the house and got screwed when we sold, (an expensive lesson in due-diligence) I didn't want to go through that after-the-fact nightmare again.

    So, we brought out the water company inspector (yes, it's true, gas pipes are considered "plumbing") who would ultimately have to give us approval for the water heater install, and he told us that no, the venting is not up to code. Not even close.

    The previous owners' wife worked for an HVAC company, so it seems they did this on the side to make the sale go through, new furnace and all.

    Long story short, these guys must live in fear of the water company guy, because they were out putting in a $3,000 stainless sleeve in the flue PDQ. It didn't cost us dime one, since the company didn't do it right the first time. After all this, the water co. man signed off on the water heater and venting with his shiny, new certification sticker.

    So yeah, codes do serve a useful purpose, such as saving me an assload of money and not burning my house down from shoddy work. This is not to say that a private institution couldn't do the same thing as the local guvmint, but I'm guessing we wouldn't have gotten the work done for free.

  • ||

    I just don't see why they feel the need to issue the code citation; the guy's house burned down! If indeed the violation is related to the fire, isn't that justice in its purist form? I fail to see how additional punishment is needed.

  • Jennifer||

    See the story of the police officer telling the reporters that there is no possible way a law-abiding citizen can comply with all the driving codes

    At my last newspaper job, I once covered a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting where a landlord had to get a variance from the zoning board to build the outdoor fire escape he was legally required to build: one zoning law mandated fire escapes, but another zoning law mandated that all new construction had to be at least X feet away from the property line. The fire escape would have violated this law.

    So there's cases where you can't comply with one zoning law without violating another. (By the way, he still had to shell out a few hundred non-refundable dollars for his 'please-sir-can-I-build-a-fire-escape?' application fee. And he would've been fined for non-compliance if he didn't. Quite a lucrative racket they've got going. But it's For Our Own Good.)

  • ed||

    How the devil did humanity manage to avoid extinction before we invented government to protect us from ourselves?

    Little know fact, but cavemen also had C of O's. Grokk would stop by, make sure there was the proper-sized hole to poop in, check the fire-pit stones for approved size and shape, taste the bat guano for acceptable acidity. The clan prospered and owed much to Grokk. Then they got hungry and ate him. The end.

  • ||

    Crazy Story Alert!

    I bought a house several years ago which had been built in the 'twenties, or before. In the basement was a nice new circuit-breaker box. However, I discovered, as I was gutting the kitchen, that the nice new breaker box was feeding the original knob-and-tube wiring. I rewired the entire house. I, myself; not a *licensed* electrician.

    And here's the weird part: that house has not burned down.

  • Yes||

    I had never even heard of a C of O until now. How is that different than having a deed to the house?

    Not all places require a C of O. It's basically another piece of paper you have to get when you build or sell a house. Even among places that do require a C of O, the requirements for getting one vary (you have to have so many smoke detectors, etc.).

    Re home inspectors: They can be invaluable. However, my advice is NOT to go with any inspector recommended by a real estate agent you're dealing with. An inspector recommended by a RE agent is really trying to help the agent (their source of referrals) by not telling the buyer anything likely to queer the deal.

  • ||

    "How the devil did humanity manage to avoid extinction before we invented government to protect us from ourselves?"

    Lots of fucking. Enjoy.

  • ||

    Poor Grokk. I guess public sector unions hadn't been invented yet, eh?

  • Paul||

    And here's the weird part: that house has not burned down.

    Yet. HAA! Just razzin' ya.

    knob-and-tube... ahh, I live my knob-and-tube wiring in my 1925 craftsman.

  • ||

    My wife and I rented an antique (100+) home. The city required an inspection of rental properties every three years, ostensibly to prevent dilapidated, unsafe property from being occupied. Three violations in our last inspection. The downstairs dining room that we used as a bedroom didn't have a door, the front screen door opened from the opposite side as the primaty door, and the stairway to the upstairs rooms had no handrail. We managed to beg off the first two by sending a letter to the city. The owner still had to install an inappropriate rail to the staircase. It's difficult to describe, but you couldn't fall over the edge of the thing if you were .20 BAC. The point is three violations, two waived, one "fixed" and an overall negative effect on the house. But the inspector got a regular paycheck, so it's not all bad.

  • ||

    That "yet" crept into my mind as soon as I hit Submit Comment, now that you mention it...

  • Geotpf||

    It's quite possible that there was a design or construction flaw in the building that caused the fire that would have been found and corrected if the proper inspections had been conducted. This case could very well be an argument for government inspections, not one against it, as had they had been conducted the fire wouldn't have happened. At this point, one can't really tell, although I suspect the city has suspicions that this is the case, hence the reason they are pressing the issue.

  • ||

    One other violation, our converted bedroom didn't have a smoke detector. The inspector was nice enough to give us a battery powered one from his panel van. Don't get me wrong, the inspector wasn't an imperious jerk, he was just doing his job.

  • ||

    Best advice when dealing with a building inspector is to leave a few obvious flaws for them to point out. They're happy that they've justified a paycheck and you get off easy fixing something your were going to do anyway. If you do a too perfect job the first time,they'll pick it apart until they can find something for you to fix.

  • ||

    Its impossible this home was never inspected. It may not have recieved the final OK for the occupancy permit, but it likely had a dozen inspections prior to this. Inpsections start before you even pour the concrete. Here is an example of what is required (PDF link for Alaska - I'm not from there, just an example)

    www.ahfc.state.ak.us/iceimages/reference/const-insp-guidelines.pdf

  • ||

    People more familiar with building inspections than with Ayn Rand novels realize that Certificates of Occupancy are required so that the city can confirm that buildings are constructed according to standards which prevent, for example, the installation of mickey-mouse gas works that might set one or more houses on fire.



    Not exactly.

    If a community wants to keep itself lilly-white, it can no longer say "No Blacks Allowed", etc. Not only is it very embarrasing for a community, it is illegal under federal law. Sometimes it isn't blacks though, sometimes it is non-Christians, sometimes it is unmarried couples, sometimes it is long haired hippies or biker dudes, low income people, "illegal" immigrants, whatever... Under some very rare occasions maybe they even want to stop "gentrification" so they go after uppper-middle class white people (so it could even effect you joe, although that is by far the least likely scenario)... but some undesirable element that a city wants to keep out.

    So they create a very complicated set of rules that make it very difficult to comply with the requirements for a Certificate of Occupancy. However, so long as people are moving in that they approve of, they are usually pretty forgiving in the inspection and are ready to hand out exemptions, variances, etc.. Basicly, they act reasonably and don't hold you to the letter of the law.

    However, when an 'undesirable' comes along, they then enforce all rules to the absolute letter of the law, requiring that the 'undesirable' meet an unreasonable standard for occupation.

    Thus, a white racist concervative can carry out their agenda of segregation and/or exclusion, and at the same time the left wing liberals will defend the means of segregation on principle (if it is the government placing restrictions on people, it must be good).

    Of course, insurance companies (who can use a convoluted complicated fire codes as an excuse to deny people claims), and contracters (who can do the expensive repairs on the home in cases where the costs aren't totally prohibitive) have some financial interest in promoting the system as well.

    As for the certificate being about "protecting people", well wouldn't a home owner or occupant have a greater interest in protecting themselves and their family than some city inspector?

    In theory, Certificates of Occupancy might make sense... but in reality, it is another scam.

  • ||

    I've learned in my relatively short life that there are some people who will enforce a rule in any situation in which the rule can possibly be applied; there's no question of degree with these types of people.



    I have learned that these people don't exist. They are either trolling for a bribe, or they don't like you for some reason (religion, race, income, political views, etc.).

  • ||

    And one day soon, some legislator will stand up and say:

    "I heard a story about this guy... this poor guy's family, they were living in this house, and it didn't have a water heater like what you'd find on a nukulur submarine, and this poor guy's house burnt down, and his kids... his poor, little KIDZ! were out in the yard in their bare feet, watching their house burn down, with all their toys and ipods and stuff, and it was just awful.... [sobs]

    My friends, I have it on good authority, from my excellent friends over at General Dynamix, that if that house had had a water heater just like the one General Dynamix builds for our nukulur sub fleet, for the inconsequential sum of forty two point seven million dollars... well, that house would have never burnt down. I say to you, for the good of our nation's KIDZ, every home in this land should have a General Dynamix water heater, just like the ones in the, you know, the nukulur sub fleet...

    Gentlemen and ladies, we must pass this Bill... it's for the precious little children!

  • ||

    Jennifer | January 15, 2008, 2:34pm | #

    This father of six doesn't seem to have felt the same way.

    And thus the government needs to punish him For His Own Good.


    No, genius, for the good of the people he put in danger.

    How the devil did humanity manage to avoid extinction before we invented government to protect us from ourselves? There were a hell of lot more house (and factory, and building) fires, and a hell of a lot more lives lost in them. That's why societies across the world developed building regulationsd. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, anyone?

    Christ, Jennifer, read a book!

  • ||

    Was anyone else more disturbed by the onion article linked than the actual article?

  • ||

    Its my understanding that in some areas, and in some cases, getting a building permit will trigger a reassessment of your property that may lead to an increase in your property taxes. I've also read of cases where getting a permit to remodel an existing addition, garage, etc. reveals perviously unauthorized work that will become your inspection nightmare.

    Not that this affects new construction, just sayin

  • ||

    I wonder if the fact that we have fewer house/factory/building fires (and lives lost in them) is less due to stringent fire codes than the fact that we don't use candles for illumination anymore.

    Although I will never give up my candles on the Christmas tree. Thus I know I can start each new year in a new house.

  • ||

    I predict that Jennifer will now accuse me of supporting some regulation that I have never written a word of support for, and echo back to me the argument I made about overly-intrusive regulations causing problems as if making a point against me, but do it in a less coherent manner.

    That's usually what happens.

  • ||

    There is a town near me that enforces building code retroactively, which are impossible to comply with. There is a code as to the height of each story of a house and some houses built before this code that are fined every year. How the hell would it be possible to slice through the house horizontally and insert an inch or so more to the ceiling height?

  • Tym||

    It is just a scam that is a "stealth tax" on these homeowners.

  • bob mologna||

    This is going to cost me my free market card I know, but... The municipal / county building code actually works pretty efficiently in assuring safe construction practices.

    I'm a general contractor and a Realtor and I deal with inspectors and permit techs a lot (well, I used to, I'm not so busy these days as you can imagine). At least in my experience, they really just want to see that you are doing the work correctly and to code (the codes do exist for valid reasons). Once they see that you are not trying to skirt the rules they are very accommodating and will even sign off on minor things sight unseen if you are known to be diligent.

    There are a good few cowboy contractors out there who will cut corners either out of stupidity or to save money. They need watching, and I'd trust the Gov't to do it. I run into a lot more corrupt appraisers, home inspectors, mortgage brokers than I do county inspectors. Boy that hurt to say, but it's true.

  • ||

    Joe,

    Why didn't they cite the building inspector? I don't know a boiler from a water heater honestly and I would assume that the inspector is the authority on these things. And judging from what other people have said about the certificate of Occupany, it is a joke of an inspection and just serves to fill government coffers.

  • Jennifer||

    There were a hell of lot more house (and factory, and building) fires, and a hell of a lot more lives lost in them. That's why societies across the world developed building regulationsd. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, anyone? Christ, Jennifer, read a book!

    Unless the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a private home, it has nothing to do with the topic I've been discussing, which involves laws people are required to obey ostensibly for their own good, not for the protection of others. Christ, Joe, read the comments!

    As for the certificate being about "protecting people", well wouldn't a home owner or occupant have a greater interest in protecting themselves and their family than some city inspector?

    We are a society that will, with a straight face, refer to ourselves as being a "free country" even though the police will stop traffic to conduct actual seatbelt checkpoints, because the government sincerely believes that grown-ups must, For Their Own Good, submit to such inspections. It's the same way my five-year-old self had to show Mommy that yes, my jacket's zipped all the way up to my chin so please can I go play in the snow now?

    The difference is, once I grew a little older my mother decided I could be trusted to make zipper-related decisions on my own. But the government will never decide you're old enough to take care of yourself.

  • SxCx||

    What was the most recent one..."Libertarians Outraged At Government Controlled Election Day"?

  • ||

    If my house burns down after it has been duly inspected/approved by the authorities can I sue them?

    Seems to me there are 3-4 entities with a vested interest in my shoddy construction.

    1. Me, since I'd like to go on living
    2. My bank, if they have loaned me money
    3. My insurance company, since they don't want to pay a claim
    4. Gas/electric companies, since they don't want to lose a customer.

    If any of these want to inspect, bring 'em on.

    Oh yeah, I built my own house 15 years ago and believe me, plumbing/electricity are not high tech. A good book, a little experience with tools and logic, as in you can't outrun electricity and shit runs downhill will go a long ways.

  • Bob Mologna||

    Building codes and inspections are not just to protect people from themselves. Homes get sold, rented, visited, etc.

    I'm all for the private market, and there are private solutions (UL Labs...) that could perform the same function as county inspectors, but the level of corruption in the building, real estate, lending industry does not inspire confidence. I deal with these people all the time, BTW.

  • ||

    A lot of things have reduced fires. Safety listings from privately owned (hehehehe) NRTLs is one. Then there is lawsuits and the evolution of building and electrical codes. In the late 60's the NEC was cool with installing aluminum wire indoors - no longer. At one time a fuse box with 6 screw-base fuses was just fine. It still would be just fine except that over time many of these become overloaded with more branch circuits added. All the 15 amp fuses eventually blow and get replaced with 20, then 30 amp fuses, then pennies, then electrtical fires. New technology and relative wealth has done a lot to improve safety. Things like circuit breakers, GFCI's, and AFCI's were invented for profit before there was any code requirement. New codes don't mandate use of equipment that doesn't exist.

    Europe still has a candle fire problem. There are "candle flame" tests being considered for addition to product safety standards. Apparently they like lighting candles over there. Surprisingly, in progressive Europe, much of product safety is by self declaration by the manufacturer. (In the US, OSHA drives safety by mandating NRTL approval for products in the workplace. Insurance companies and cautious manufacturers do the rest)

    So, I'd credit:

    Technology
    Evolving codes driven by technology, profit, and lawsuits
    Wealth
    Hundreds of years of doing it wrong

  • Jennifer||

    I'm all for the private market, and there are private solutions (UL Labs...) that could perform the same function as county inspectors, but the level of corruption in the building, real estate, lending industry does not inspire confidence.

    True, and yet I'd go so far as to say they'd be less corrupt with less government, not more. For example, government says you need a "license" to sell a house. WTF? So if my honest self wants to start selling houses tomorrow, as a free-market alternative to the corrupt (but licensed!) realtor in the neighborhood, I can't, because government feels the need to protect you from the threat of having an unlicensed person giving you a tour and saying things like "this house has four bedrooms."

    Builders would be less corrupt if they could actually be sued and held accountable for shoddy work, rather than hiding behind "Hey, it passed its legal inspection (after I greased a few inspectors' palms)." And remove government-guaranteed mortgages and other such things, and I doubt we'd have the current subprime debacle caused by lenders who saw no need to make sure people to whom they lent huge sums of money were actually capable of paying them back.

  • ||

    There were a hell of lot more house (and factory, and building) fires, and a hell of a lot more lives lost in them. That's why societies across the world developed building regulations. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, anyone?

    Joe, you give too much (way too much) credit to governments and their regulations. They are merely after the fact affairs. Situations like the one you mentioned do not arise due to lack of regulations, just human mismanagement or stupidity, and are rare. Most of the time, people do not want their homes or businesses to burn to the ground. The fact is, state bureaucrats are NOT clever enough to come up with forward-seeing regulations - they simply impose current recommendations by builders and contractors. Most of these standards come up directly from the marketplace, and not some government official's head. This means that people can perfectly find and follow guidelines and codes whenever building a home. And if they don't, so what? Just because there are idiots out there does not give justification to a State to impose a one-size-fits-all type of regulation upon all. Not only that, states make you pay for these permits and regulations. Why should a person be compelled to pay to have a home certified when that person knows he or she is compliant, out of his or her desire to have a safe home, or lower the insurance premiums?

    Normally, kiss-ass attitude towards the State stems from a deep-seated (and sick) distrust for people and their freedom.

  • ||

    I'm all for the private market, and there are private solutions (UL Labs...) that could perform the same function as county inspectors, but the level of corruption in the building, real estate, lending industry does not inspire confidence.

    Regulations do not mitigate corruption, in fact makes it worse, because you can always "tip" a bureaucrat to give you a compliance certificate, regardless of reality, whereas without such, the builder has to conform to the scope of work as required by the customer and nothing less. So what is needed is not regulation, but enforcement of contracts.

  • ||

    Building codes and inspections are not just to protect people from themselves. Homes get sold, rented, visited, etc.

    Unfortunately, what such codes and inspections do is that they make people complacent: they expect the State to protect them, so why should they bother with their own inspections? There are no regulations when it comes to selling baseball cards, and many buyers already know they can be had if they are not careful, so why should there be "protections" when it comes to something even more important? Regulations just make people stupid, instead of helping them.

  • ||

    As far as Doherty's statement about my "contention," let me just repeat what my contention actually is.

    joe | January 15, 2008, 1:52pm | #

    So, did the plumbing violation consist of a drain line that was moved, or a gas line that was improperly installed and started the fire in the first place?

    That would seem to be an important distinction in figuring out whether this is as silly as it appears at first blush.

  • ||

    LIT,

    I don't know. Reading the story, and based on the bit about two hot water heaters, it is possible that the un-code work was done after the most recent building inspection.

    Also, I agree that codes are only one factor in the reduction of fires in the modern era, and didn't mean to suggest otherwise.

  • Bob Mologna||

    "Builders would be less corrupt if they could actually be sued and held accountable for shoddy work, rather than hiding behind "Hey, it passed its legal inspection"

    They can be sued for slipshod work regardless of the county approval. The problem is that many builders (most of the work is done by subcontractors) are flaky and may not be in business by the time problems come to light. Without unbiased inspectors it would likely be far, far worse. Dear lord, I sound like Joe, but it's true.

    This is literally the first time I have ever found myself speaking up for government regulators and it's making me feel rather dirty, but so be it. The county boys may be officious pricks at times, but they have no financial incentive to fudge results (bribes notwithstanding, but I haven't seen this). People in related trades inevitably work together, network together, and collude in business.

    As for the Realtor / "licensed real estate agent" monopoly nonsense: Yes, it's a scam. Just like licensed interior decorators. But thank god for it :)

  • ||

    joe,

    I'm with you on codes. My industry applies codes every day. My issue is that issuing a violation "after" the house has already burned down is kind of "insult to injury". Do they cite people for falling asleep and letting their cigarette burn down the house or being careless and leaving the stove on? To me this is the same thing. the fire department may try and save the house sometimes, but usually their goal is to save lives and prevent further damage. By all means, institute a system where you have to meet inspections yearly if thats what your local community demands, but don't start increasing the cost of losing everything because the situation "might" have been worse. I think the family that saw their house burn down has learned their lesson about non code vessels and it sends a message to other homeowners that they risk fines....only if their house burns down.

  • ||

    ...and no, this is not about preventing future violations. Individuals and families are not the same as corporations and other businesses.

  • ||

    Sure, Lost in Translation, that makes sense.

    Please note that the statements "Building codes serve an important purpose" and "Some building inspectors are officious dicks" are in no way contradictory.

  • ||

    Oh, sure, NOW Jennifer's all hot about the difference between private homes vs. workplaces and places of public accommodation.

    To which I say: well. Okay then. That makes sense.

    Jennifer, if it's ok to regulate building techniques in the latter case but not the former, are you willing to apply the same reasoning to racial discrimination and smoking?

  • ||

    Boyle---Really? Now, you KNOW that that first statement was not your only contribution to this thread. And also that the only sensible inference from even that first comment is: "let us make sure to consider that he probably had it coming" (a general response of yours, as I recall, to most situations in which anyone is being harassed by the state) You mean to say you were not, anywhere in this thread, stating or implying that the code violations for which Weiss was cited had, or probably had, or might have had, something to do with the fire? (Not sure why the word "contention" is in quotation marks either--where did I write that?) If you did say that, then my last comment was perfectly on point. Because that's what I was talking about when I laid forth the reasons why, from the evidence presented in this story, my reading that he's just being screwed seems more reasonable than the idea that the code violations were connected with the fire. And I was even polite enough to grant that you may well be right, though it seems unlikely based on the evidence on the table. So, you didn't state or imply that with statements like this:
    "People more familiar with building inspections than with Ayn Rand novels realize that Certificates of Occupancy are required so that the city can confirm that buildings are constructed according to standards which prevent, for example, the installation of mickey-mouse gas works that might set one or more houses on fire."
    Not with incomplete and uncommented on quotations like this:
    "The fire began on the outside of the house, near a vent opening for the home's water heater...The plumbing violation stems from a discrepancy in building plans, which originally called for a boiler and a water heater, Deery said. An independent electrical inspection in November 2006 verified the boiler and heater, but investigators found the charred remains of two boilers at the site Friday.

    Since I clearly don't understand you very well please do explain whatever it is you meant to say or imply in your many comments in this post.

  • ||

    Uh, yeah, "He probably had it coming" is a perfectly reasonable - no, wait the only sensible - inference to draw from that comment.

    a general response of yours, as I recall, to most situations in which anyone is being harassed by the state) OK, just as long as your political prejudices don't lead you to put words in my mouth, or assign me absurd positions, or anything.

    You mean to say you were not, anywhere in this thread, stating or implying that the code violations for which Weiss was cited had, or probably had, or might have had, something to do with the fire? I was stating that they may have. Hence the part about needing more information to draw a conclusion. None of which can be fairly read as "He had it coming."

    from the evidence presented in this story...the evidence on the table. There's your problem, and my grace. You are happy to draw conclusions, even knowing the facts are incomplete, and I am not.

    If my meaning is still eluding you, I'll make it plain: you are drawing uninformed, politically-convenient conclusions based on what even you realize is incomplete information, when it is entirely plausible that the facts are not as clear-cut as you wish to assume.

    You let your confirmation bias run away with you, got called out, and are now trying to salvage some dignity by attacking the moral standing of the guy who spotted your journalistic shortcomings. Classy.

  • ||

    .. there seems to be some assumption in the comments that inspections actually work .. New Mexico requires an inspection of the electrical install before the power meter is installed .. I found many, many basic code violations while doing remodeling .. the inspector either turned a blind eye or was paid up the whazoo to approve this house ..

    .. oh, and that was 25 years ago .. house still hasn't burned down ..

    .. Hobbit

  • ||

    I'll give you a reasonable inference, Brian.

    You didn't know that the installation of natural gas equipment was considered "plumbing," saw that the citation was about non-compliant plumbing, concluded that the problem couldn't have possibly had anything to do with the fire, and thought you had a terriffic example of the government picking on a poor guy for a completely unrelated code violation.

    Well, you didn't. And it doesn't make me an apologist for state terror to know that.

  • Bob Mologna||

    Fair cop Joe: anyone who doesn't consider gas pipes "plumbing" loses a good bit of credibility.

  • ||

    Boyle (I was so much happier to be on a first name basis with you, Joe...)--Let's start over. Where in my original post did I say that the citations were NOT related to things that caused the fire? I never said any such thing, did I? Joe, is it merely your ideological bias against me that makes you think I said such a thing?

    And I even said in my first comment that "Which is of course not a GUARANTEE it isn't the case, but I think adds some weight to the notion that the citations were irrelevant to the fire." So, the most I've said is that there is "some weight to the notion..." etc--and that only in a comment, not the original post.

    You have NO information whatsoever to support any OTHER interpretation of these facts, merely the idea--perfectly true!--that it can't be ruled out. You have not addressed the idea that the fact that the reporter, who had spoken to relevant town officials, did not quote any of them giving any weight to your theory, when it certainly seems they'd have reason to do so, is some evidence that the citations were not related to the cause of the fire.

    Which means that, since I have repeatedly granted that something for which there is no evidence but which you keep bringing up MIGHT be true, and you have not even granted that a contention for which there is SOME evidence (a professional reporter with no known ideological bias writing at length who seemed to have access to people who COULD correct him on this point did NOT do so), I have to say I walk out of this feeling a bit less ideological than you in this exchange.

    And, as I think you understand but chose to pretend not to since it allows you to insult me, I don't (and neither does any other blogger) feel an obligation to do fresh reporting every time I point to and summarize an article in a newspaper.

    So it seems that we are in no disagreement at all--we both agree that the code violations MIGHT have been related to the cause of the fire. For reasons stated above, it's true I lean toward an alternate interpretation, for which there seems to be some evidence. So why is it we are fighting, Mr. Joe Boyle?

    I understand why you jumped to a conclusion about what I meant in my post, Joe. And I apologize for assuming--and believe me, you are in the top five of people whose total wordage I've read on this blog over the years, but alas must admit I didn't keep a commonplace book to provide chapter and verse for my assumptions about your worldview--there was a reason related to your general worldview that causes you to keep bringing this point, for which you admit there is no evidence up, again and again. (Can we go for again?)

  • Eric Sundwall||

    I put a second story on a family lake house once with little or no experience in building (it came out fine and above local standards to boot). The locality freaked out and brought me to state supreme court after about two years of ignoring them. After threatening a 40K fine we settled on 4K with no admission of guilt. Despite relenting and letting an inspector in, they destroyed my file and never issued a permit. Best 4K for freedom I ever spent. They haven't bothered me since. Sometimes you can fight city hall to a draw.

  • ||

    Where in my original post did I say that the citations were NOT related to things that caused the fire?

    I was just drawing a reasonable inference.

    You have NO information whatsoever to support any OTHER interpretation of these facts

    Yes, I do. I have the fact that the fire started in part of the gas-heating system, and that the citation was for having a second gas heater, not shown on the plans. Proof? No. Evidence? Yes, yes it is. Certainly enough to throw water on the idea that the citation was unrelated to the cause of the fire.

    the reporter, who had spoken to relevant town officials, did not quote any of them giving any weight to your theory, when it certainly seems they'd have reason to do so, is some evidence that the citations were not related to the cause of the fire. While the information the reporter provided about the second boiler was not in quotes, I don't see how that matters. The department issued a citation for a violation regarding the installation of a gas-fired furnace, after a fire caused by a gas-fired furnace.

    So it seems that we are in no disagreement at all--we both agree that the code violations MIGHT have been related to the cause of the fire.

    Now that you've agreed with me, we agree.

  • ||

    We are fighting, Brian, first because you decided it was called for to write this: And also that the only sensible inference from even that first comment is: "let us make sure to consider that he probably had it coming" (a general response of yours, as I recall, to most situations in which anyone is being harassed by the state)

    (That's why it became a fight, and not a disagreement - because you attacked me personally by accusing me of believing that the loss of this man's home and the threat that his family would burn to death was just, and of taking the side of the government out of reflexive support for the government when it harrasses people)

    We are disagreeing because you wrote that the reasonable inference from the story as reported is mine, not his, and that is not true.

    Amending your position to one of neutrality on the question of whether the citation was related to the fire's cause is better.

  • ||

    Where in my original post did I say that the citations were NOT related to things that caused the fire?

    I was just drawing a reasonable inference.


    An inference whose accuracy you later confirmed.

  • ||

    And yet I agreed with you from the very beginning, Joe, as long as we grant it is a possibility and leave out of it (as you say I should) any inclination on your part (imagined by me) to assume that regulators are right/the regulated are wrong.

    And your inference may have been reasonable. I could decide that since it might help me seem to win an argument with you in a blog comments thread to take umbrage; to hold you firmly to the explicitly stated word-by-word facts; to declare that despite anything you might think you know about my thought processes, you are DEAD WRONG in assuming that I might have a tendency to think that, when the evidence leans that way, that a regulator might have just been being an officious dick and that a particular set of inspection processes might NOT have prevented a tragedy; to declare you deficient in reading comprehension and practically a liar to say so.

    But Joe P. Boyle, the man who makes Hit and Run comment threads so damn hit and runny? Would I do that to you? Your inference was correct. On the evidence in that story, that is the interpretation I meant to put across.

  • ||

    BTW, I did not mean any disrespect in the use of your last name, Brian.

    And I'll let that be the last word.

  • ||

    In Arkansas, if you rent, it is/was legal for a building inspector to inspect your apartment without you present.

    I have a friend that came home from work and found a ticket on his kitchen counter. He was cited for living in an "unsanitary condition" by a inspector. He found no sympathy with the judge.

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