Salisbury Council Puts Off Housing Board Decisions

SALISBURY – The City Council decided it was not time yet to make any final decisions on the Housing Board of Adjustment and Appeals (HBAA) role in the city’s government as proposed amendments were sent back to discussion this week.

The Housing Board of Adjustments and Appeals (HBAA) was created to hear the appeals of property owners’ who have been cited and deemed in violation by the Department of Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance (NSCC).

City Attorney Paul Wilber explained that if there is an appeal made to the NSCC, the HBAA has the ability to uphold the violation, reverse it or modify it. The board does not have the ability to waive or adjust fees.

The council has been working on amending the code concerning HBAA and its authority since June 13. The amendment being considered involves the board’s power in altering fees and fines, as well as eliminating HBAA’s ability to consider undue hardship cases.

Salisbury resident Muir Boda is concerned over HBAA’s role and authority being reduced.

“The HBAA provides a vital role as it acts part of the judicial branch of government,” Boda said. “The role fits perfectly in the system we have as it provides an independent entity to settle disputes between NSCC and those they issue citations too. Removing the HBAA’s authority or eliminating the board will be a blow to due process when dealing with miscues that arise from alleged housing codes violations.”

Councilwoman Eugenie Shields is mainly concerned over the fact that the amended ordinance would remove the board’s authority to address undue hardship upon residents or more specifically senior citizens. She used the example of a citizen being cited to power wash his or her home and given a certain time frame to complete the task.

“Most of the time power washing their house is not something on their radar,” she said. “Paying their bills or purchasing medication, or purchasing their food is. So, when you put a citation from a governmental agency saying that you must power wash and you have so many days to do it that to me is putting undue hardship on a senior citizen on a fixed income.”

Council Vice President Deborah Campbell admitted to suggesting the elimination of HBAA altogether.

“For the time that I have as a citizen and as a council member observed the various hearing of that board, and the feedback from the public, it is clear to me that it does not work well,” she said.

Campbell became weary of the amended ordinance that laid before the council on Monday evening in second reading.

“As far as the board having discretion, I don’t believe that it is appropriate for a board to decide whether or not a law matters,” she said. “It is appropriate for a board to decide whether a housing official has properly applied the law but if the law has been properly applied, having the discretion to say ‘well in your case its ok’, that is not the government.”

There was discussion on where would the powers lie if the HBAA’s power in deciding upon fees and fines as well as undue hardship were eliminated.

“The department head [of NSCC Tom Stevenson] would be the first line of defense for somebody who is feeling like something is unfair,” Council President Terry Cohen said.

Wilber acknowledged that placing discretion of appeals upon Stevenson would be a burden.

The council voted unanimously to postpone the second reading of the ordinance and move it back to work session, Aug. 1, to discuss the amendments further.

“If we moved it forward now, it wouldn’t be right,” Campbell said.  “I think it would be a huge mistake to just do something to try to fix it tonight to just be expeditious.”

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