Champaign code-compliance manager: Nuisance complaints clogging priorities

Champaign code-compliance manager: Nuisance complaints clogging priorities

CHAMPAIGN — Keep your lawn mowed, your weeds cut and trash picked up.

That is, if you don't want to be the target of nuisance complaints.

It would make Champaign Code Compliance Manager David Oliver's job a little easier, at least.

Dealing with the high volume of nuisance cases is keeping his office from focusing on its priorities, he said at Thursday's Neighborhood Services Advisory Board meeting, where he sought direction from board members.

Right now, Oliver said, the city's property-inspection process is "complaint-driven."

And not only do the vast majority of complaints come in the peak season of May through September, but they're also almost always about nuisances like tall grass, weeds and trash.

Oliver said that while nuisance cases generally can be resolved pretty quickly, last year, such complaints accounted for 84.25 percent of his office's caseload.

And about 72 percent of all those came during the peak period, the busiest time for Oliver's team of five inspectors.

That volume means his office can't focus on its priorities, he said, like focusing on a partnership with the University of Illinois that has city inspectors check the conditions of properties on the university's Private Certified Housing list.

"But in order to get those to the top of the list, we're asking how we can do these nuisance inspections better," Oliver said.

One way Oliver's office has tried to deal with the issue is by switching to an electronic system of code-violation notices.

In the past, inspectors had to take handwritten notes, then go back to the office, input the notes into the city's code-violation system, print out the violation notices and post them to the appropriate properties.

The office's new system uses tablets to do away with most of the hassle, Oliver said.

"It should give us more field capacity without the need to go back to the office."

Oliver eventually hopes to put printers inside his inspectors' cars, so they can generate and distribute notices while on site.

And he said he has been meeting with leaders in other Illinois cities to generate other ideas.

"We took a trip to Peoria recently, and they have some award-winning programs they have put in place," Oliver said.

"We are looking at modeling some of those programs on what they have done."

One such program involves sending "thank you" letters and postcards to code violators who rectify their issues within the allotted time.

The theory is that such thank-yous could lower the number of repeat violators.

In Champaign, there are a lot of what Oliver calls "recidivist properties."

He said he has seen some get four or five weed violation notices a year.

One way of dealing with that, Oliver said, would be to streamline the process of notifying those frequent violators and only notify them once instead of multiple times.

As for how to ease the burden on inspectors, board member Brent West suggested leaning into the current complaint-driven system.

"For the person who's reporting the complaint, if there's some way to leverage that relationship so you can actually get a picture of the issue or more information, that could save an inspector's time," West said.

"They can just document proactively by submitting the complaint and then confirming the issue has been resolved."

Oliver said there are municipalities that do this, and it could be something Champaign should model.

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