Casper City Council on Tuesday passed on first reading an amendment to an ordinance that will give code enforcers the ability to respond to tenants who complain about unsafe and unhealthy apartments and houses.

“We bring this to you as a request to help mitigate some of the enforcement inabilities we’re currently experiencing with the ordinances as they’re currently written,” City Manager Carter Napier said at the beginning of the public hearing.

The proposed amendment arose from discussions earlier this year after council received reports from the Casper-Natrona County Health Department and other government and social service agencies who've documented in rentals lack of water and heat, vermin, plumbing leaks, shut-off utilities and other deplorable conditions.

Some renters in Casper endure these conditions because their landlords have failed to maintain their properties.

While landlords have legal protections from irresponsible renters, the flip side isn't true because residents in many cases have few options available and are forced to live in these subpar conditions, Napier and others said in March and April.

The city already enforces the 2018 International Building Code about unsafe structures and equipment with one paragraph that addresses about unsafe conditions.

However, it is general and does not specifically address nine conditions raised in the work sessions:

  • Means of egress.
  • Egress lighting.
  • Ventilation.
  • Fire hazard.
  • Heating facilities.
  • Electrical systems.
  • Water systems.
  • Sanitary drainage.
  • Vacant structures.

“By adopting this Ordinance, it would provide definitive parameters for interior living conditions that can be enforced to provide for the safety of the occupants,” according to a May 15 memo to Napier from the city’s community development director, the police and fire chiefs, and the chief building inspection supervisor.

If adopted in its present form, a renter could make a complaint that that would trigger an inspection without the need for a permit.

Social workers and Wyoming Rescue Mission Executive Director Brad Hopkins spoke to the videoconferenced council meeting to express their support for the amendment, with several recounting their experiences visiting clients whose rentals had sewer pipes on the floors and a gas furnace was in the open.

However, several callers opposed the amendment.

Realtor and property manager Lisa Engebretsen said the city didn't need the ordinance because state law already had these provisions, and that realtors had to abide by a code of ethics if they rented properties.

The problems are a few landlords, she said, adding it would be better for the city to possibly have a licensing procedure for landlords.

Engebretsen and area resident Linda Bergeron added that the amendment would violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that forbids unreasonable searches and seizures.

Council member Mike Huber responded to the criticisms that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply because it only allows code enforcement officers to enter a property with the  owner's permission. If the owner refuses, the officer would need a warrant.

City Attorney John Henley added that nothing in the amendment gives a building inspector the right to just walk into a home or apartment.

Huber added the nation's first Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that the fundamental function of government is to safeguard the health and safety of citizens.

Several council members voiced their displeasure if not disgust with comments they received from people who obviously had not read the amendment to the ordinance, nor called to ask questions.

Ray Pacheco said he received an email accusing the council wanting to create a “‘murderous stalinist enforced entry police state.'’’

Charlie Powell added he was troubled by a trend in which people talk about their rights and their interpretation of the Constitution but not for rights of anyone else.

When someone wants to sell their house next to a dilapidated property, the seller loses money and that dishonors his rights, Powell said.

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