Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Muir Boda's Comments On The HBAA

Every government, from the federal level to the municipal level must actively have a balance of power. The executive, legislative and judicial branches are necessary for proper checks and balance on each other.  Authority is given to each branch so that it may execute its duties properly and in accordance with its own specific role. This is government 101.

The current situation that we have with talks of reducing the role, discretion and authority of the Housing Board of Adjustments and Appeals is one of great concern. There is even talk of eliminating the board as a whole.

The HBAA provides a vital role as it acts as part of the judicial branch of government. Every branch of enforcement and executive authority must have an equal branch of the judiciary. In this case, the HBAA acts as the judiciary to Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance which is an extension of the executive branch and enforces the housing code. 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 to.

Removing the HBAA’s authority or eliminating the board would be a blow to due process when dealing with disputes that arise from alleged housing code violations. Every individual who is accused of a housing code violation or murder must be given the opportunity through due process to defend him or herself.

The great misconception is that landlords are the only ones that benefit from the HBAA.This is not true. Every property owner, whether a landlord or homeowner, property manager or a commercial business owner, has a right to appeal their cases to the HBAA.

So the question becomes what happens if we remove the authority or eliminate the HBAA? Several things will happen.
  • We remove an effective step in the course of due process where issues get resolved quickly and fairly.
  • We will increase the cost for the city and for those accused of housing infractions. The current board consists of volunteers. If this board is eliminated then the Circuit Court of Wicomico County is where all appeals will go. This will create a greater burden on a court system that is already overloaded. It will also create a greater burden on taxpayers as Circuit Court costs money to run to pay the judges, clerks and bailiffs.
  • The other cost is the City Attorney or Solicitor will be required to act as a prosecutor and will require additional funds to account for his time prosecuting housing code violations in Circuit Court.
    • This then puts citizens at a legal disadvantage and they may need to hire attorneys to defend themselves. Certainly great for the legal business but many things will cascade from here such as fines being increased to account for added costs or the other extreme where enforcement is reduced to a point where issues are never addressed.
The HBAA provides a perfect low cost solution to fulfilling our need for a balance of power when certain and specific types of laws or codes, such as housing codes, are being enforced. The HBAA keeps the executive and the legislative branch’s powers in check and they keep the board’s powers in check through appointments and legislation.

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