An "International Property Maintenance Code" -- among other new building-related codes -- approved on first reading by Casper City Council on Tuesday gives city staff the teeth to deal with decrepit properties, some councilmembers said Tuesday.

But those teeth could take a big bite out of property rights, homeowner budgets and general neighborliness, other councilmembers said.

Jesse Morgan called it an assault on property rights, even tough he approves of the life-saving guidelines in the code.

"It's almost the definition of government overreach," Morgan said. "I don't know how we're going to try to enforce the majority of the code."

Bob Hopkins defended it, saying councilmembers for years have heard from people about nearby properties in disrepair, he said. "And we just didn't have any way to deal with that."

The property maintenance code's requirements aren't absolute, the council can amend them, and code enforcement officers have discretion as they work, Hopkins said. "It does give council some way to address a real eyesore or a house that has structural problems."

City Manager Carter Napier explained the city receives numerous complaints from people who are concerned that nearby dilapidated, unkempt and unsafe properties are driving down their own property values.

The city hasn't had a way to respond to these complaints, Napier said. "This gives us the opportunity to give us the tools we've not had before to try to be more responsive with regard to that nature of complaint."

Few complaints about other properties are self-serving or vindictive, he said. "They're typically driven by concerns from neighbors or concerns from tenants. Until this option becomes a feature of our code, our tools are pretty much limited."

As a tool, however, it looked to some like a shotgun to kill a fly.

At the meeting, Morgan cited a part of the code and further detailed it on his Facebook page: "All exterior surfaces including but not limited to doors, window frames, trim, balconies, decks and fences be maintained in good condition. Wood surfaces should be protected from decay with paint or other protective covering or treatment." Morgan summed part of the code about "unsafe conditions for wood are defined as horizontal or vertical cracks, damage from insects or deterioration."

Morgan then asked if anyone has seen the fences along Casper Mountain Road or Outer Drive, and then wondered how much repairing them will cost homeowners according to the code.

The code as written could allow a code enforcer the right of entry into a house, he added. "It's too much."

Some councilmembers who support of the code, Morgan said, noted the code enforcers will be able to choose how to apply the regulations.

But the new code would fall hardest on those who can least afford it, he said. "Where they're going to pick, is the poor people; people that cannot afford to paint their house."

Chris Walsh, former Casper police chief, said the mechanism already exists for dealing with decrepit properties.

The property maintenance code, however, could take enforcement to a new and ugly level, Walsh said. "I don't know how far we want to open up this avenue that the neighbor doesn't like the color of my house, and so finds some chipped paint, and they can force me to change it."

Dallas Laird wondered how many police officers and code enforcement officers the city would need to hire if the property maintenance code went into effect.

On the other hand, Kenyne Humphrey and Mike Huber defended it.

"We still have landlords that, I can think of one in particular, certainly it's not about not having enough money," Humphrey said. "It's just a choice to be a cheapskate, and those are the ones we have a significant problem with."

Huber added the code would align with the requirements of the Tenant Landlord Act passed by the Legislature several years ago.

The city relies on good people to use their judgment to enforce the code, he said. "I'm pretty comfortable with this, and I'm generally not one that's really excited about a lot of regulations."

Morgan unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would have stripped the Property Maintenance Code from the rest of the codes.

Before the vote on the ordinance, Walsh asked his fellow councilmembers to check their own properties and see if they would meet the requirements of the new code.

"If you vote for this, you have to, as soon as it comes into law, bring your own home up to compliance, or else you're setting a wrong example and you're being hypocritical," he said. "If you won't do it for yourself, do not ask other people to do it; don't mandate other people to do it."

Council unanimously passed the overall motion on the codes, but Shawn Johnson, Walsh and Morgan noted their opposition to the property maintenance code.

The second reading, with a public hearing, would be at the next council meeting at 6 p.m. July 3.

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