While many cities and states impose civil fines and penalties on builders who fail to meet building code standards, the law of the city of Albuquerque recognizes such violations only as matters to be tried in criminal court. The rationale that such punitive remedies would effectively curtail code violations is, according to some, misguided. The problem stems from the difficulty and high level of proof necessary to convict a violator of failure to comply with code. The prosecution of these offenses can be time-consuming. Further, the City must meet criminal law’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof to succeed in a code violation case. This higher standard of proof may be suitable for ensuring that criminal defendants do not get convicted unfairly but this burden makes no sense for the enforcement of building codes.
Building codes serve various purposes. They set standards for builders to construct homes and other facilities safely. They prohibit the use of some materials for construction purposes so as to ensure toxic substances are not employed. They encourage best practices to ensure accidents will not destroy or damage a home once constructed and they require that lots are not left with mountains of trash, debris and junk such as old cars on them. Because of the protracted nature of the building code enforcement system in Albuquerque, not as many violations are being enforced as is necessary. The result is that some neighborhoods, due to the blight caused by these conditions, contain too many properties which force property values for other parcels to drop.
As a result, Albuquerque Planning Department officials are endorsing a bill at the legislature in Santa Fe that would add an alternative to criminal proceedings for residential and commercial code violators. If approved, the City could use a civil administrative procedure in a more expedited fashion. Senator Jacob Candelaria has proposed Senate Bill 61 to give the City of Albuquerque the option to handle these matters in this other forum. Civil penalties, he claims, would be easier to collect as builders would be less inclined to fight them. And City officials could pursue more violations as cases would not be as time-consuming as they currently are. Plus judges in the Metropolitan and District Court systems would relish the removal of these cases from their busy dockets.
Mr. Giddens and the other attorneys at Giddens & Gatton Law, P.C. have experience advising New Mexico business owners, including builders, regarding compliance with local and state regulations and codes. Giddens & Gatton Law, P.C. is located at 10400 Academy Road N.E., Suite 350 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Call the office at (505) 633-6298 to set up an appointment or visit the firm’s website at giddenslaw.com for more information.