Here’s something that would be funny if it wasn’t real. It’s something that could be the punch line of a bad joke. I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh called Swissvale and did you know that the residents here can go to jail for not painting the trim around their windows? Yes Swissvale has recently adopted the IPMC or International Property Maintenance Code, 2009 version and they recently sent out hundreds if not thousands of letters stating properties are in violation of this. They didn’t let the citizens know they were adopting this code. It’s not even listed in their codes actually on the ‘official’ website last I checked. The last changes I see actually are from 2008. So fine, they don’t keep their website updated, not many government entities do though. Point is that it’s not readily accessible to the public to access. Doing a quick search I found that there’s somewhere around 9,000 people residing in Swissvale as of the 2010 census. I have to wonder how 9,000 people are supposed to wander into the borough building and access the documentation to know what has changed?! I then have to wonder why wasn’t anyone notified of these changes or that they were going to happen. We were all just surprised.
I got one of these letters and it states that these ‘violations’ must be address within 30 days or I’ll get a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail for EACH DAY after the 30 days that the problem isn’t fixed. So if it’s 3 days past the 30 days I get a $3,000 fine and have to spend 90 days in jail. Yes that can now happen if someone doesn’t paint the trim on my windows. Seriously I thought our jails were overcrowded? Can you picture being in jail with rapists and murderers and such and having them ask you why you’re there and you have to tell them it’s because you didn’t paint the trim on your windows?!?!
What is wrong with our government that they can do this to us?
I’m no constitutional law professor but in my opinion this is unconstitutional.
The Bill of Rights is part of our Constitution, it’s basis of it really. It’s undoubtedly one of the most important documents in history, it outlines our rights as citizens and these rights are being trampled upon by the borough of Swissvale, the IPMC and any others that adopt it.
The average income, last I checked, for Swissvale residents is about $38,000 per year. Yes we’re not exactly a rich community, of course we’re not including the local drug dealers who make tons more than that. There is a point here and I’m getting to it.
Amendment VIII of the Bill of Rights states: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Now read that and think about that $1,000 PER DAY fine and the fact that the average income is $38,000. I think it’s a very ‘excessive fine’ for what it actually is. Think about it, that fine can be for something as simple as not painting the trim on your windows. In that case, and most cases, I believe it’s extremely excessive. I even wonder if obtaining a high profiled lawyer with an equally high profiled legal assistant would help or if they would find a way to join the “dark forces”!
My question of course is what if one can’t afford to fix the ‘violations’? Essentially people are going to be sent to jail because they are poor and can’t afford the materials or afford to pay someone to fix the violations. How is that even fair and/or constitutional?
The next part of that would the ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ part of our rights. I don’t know about you but I consider the minimum 30 days in prison for not painting the trim on your windows to be cruel and unusual punishment. I thought the punishment was supposed to fit the crime?! What crime is being committed here exactly? I thought the point of prisons or jails was to protect citizens from those that might harm others. You know, for actual criminals like murderers and rapists and such.
Essentially what can happen here is that if we or any other resident can’t afford to do these repairs, they’ll be fined and go to jail. To me this means I lose everything, my life, my home, my family. My business or livelihood will be done and gone. Then of course if I’m in jail they’ll take my children from me. Then being in jail I won’t be able to pay the mortgage so I’ll lose my home and all of its contents as well. I would have to say that all of that can be categorized as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.
I have to wonder though how they’ll manage the last part. The IPMC states that I cannot sell, transfer etc my home until the repairs are made. If I’m in jail the repairs can’t be made therefore the mortgage company can’t the take the house. I wonder what law they’ll pass to get around that one?!
The IPMC itself violates the constitution in that it says, and I quote: 104.3 Right of entry. Where it is necessary to make an inspection to enforce the provisions of this code, or whenever the code official has reasonable cause to believe that there exists in a structure or upon a premises a condition in violation of this code, the code official is authorized to enter the structure or premises at reasonable times to inspect or perform the duties imposed by this code, provided that if such structure or premises is occupied the code official shall present credentials to the occupant and request entry. If such structure or premises is unoccupied, the code official shall first make a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other person having charge or control of the structure or premises and request entry. If entry is refused, the code official shall have recourse to the remedies provided by law to secure entry.
Amendment IV of the Constitution states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The IPMC says I have to let these people in my house to search it without a warrant. That doesn’t make me feel very secure that these people can gain entry into my home or castle whenever they feel like it.
Call me paranoid but it seems I’ve just given up one of my rights without even being asked about it. There is quite a lot of potential for abuse of this little section of the IPMC. The police could easily ask the inspector to gain entry, without a warrant, and ‘look around’ to see what he sees. The police can then come back again later with ‘probable cause’ because of what the inspector saw. I might sound paranoid, but read the news, stranger things are happening.
And of course let’s not forget the first amendment the whole freedom of speech thing, which this blog post is covered under.
As I mentioned I’m not a Constitutional professor or lawyer, this is just my interpretation of things.
To me this seems very HOA or Home Owners Association like in these laws and ordinances.
To me this also seems very communist like as well. What’s next for Swissvale? All houses are going to be required to be a certain color? It can happen, all they have to do is pass the ordinance.
What ever happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Our rights are being stripped away without our consent or knowledge and it’s all being done to supposedly make our lives better. How is denying and removing our rights making our lives better?