Monday, April 11, 2016
April 11, 2016
Mr. Brandon Bennett
Director of Code Compliance
City of Fort Worth
818 Missouri Ave
Fort Worth, TX 76106
Losing one’s house to a fire is a devastating experience. Standing in the street at midnight watching flames engulf your home of many years, knowing your possessions are being destroyed yet still feeling admiration and gratitude for the firemen bravely doing battle – it is at once surreal, traumatizing and fascinating. I should know. It happened to me.
On the evening of March 29 we were awakened to a raging fire. By God’s grace our family – including two dogs – was able to escape unharmed and the fire crew was able to contain much of the damage to the rear of the house, although smoke and water damage was extensive throughout. Suddenly we were confronted with issues that so many of us just take for granted: Food, shelter and clothing.
Early the following morning the wheels were already in motion. The insurance adjuster was on the scene, the clean-up crew had already begun, contractors were lining up to submit bids. The road to full recovery would be long, but it was heartening to see that things were working as they should. While the events of the prior evening were still fresh and frightening, it was reassuring that good and competent people were now in charge of the rebuilding. That is, until the letter arrived from your department.
Within days of the fire, while clean-up and recovery efforts were underway, I received a “Notice of Violation” from the Fort Worth Code Compliance Department (attached). Without bothering to pause for words of condolence, advice or encouragement, the letter instead asserted that due to fire, smoke and water damage, my house was in violation of the building code. A completely arbitrary and capricious deadline of April 30 was given to correct the violations. If I needed further time, I was graciously given a whole ten days to submit a plan.
The letter then goes on to state that “if a work plan is not received and /or repairs are not submitted within the time granted, it is the intention of this department to present this property to the Building Standards Commission, which has the authority to order repairs, demolitions and civil penalties.” If I fail to adequately comply I am warned “…you should be aware that failing to respond could result in both criminal and civil court action.”
Well, how do you do? I actually received this letter on a Tuesday, exactly one week after the fire. I didn’t react that day and instead set it aside. I would, I decided, allow a day for it to sink in and then read it again, just to see if I actually read what I just read. The following day I did read it again and promptly mailed it back to the code officer with the question, “You’re joking, correct?”, along with a few other will chosen words.
I posted this to Facebook and it went viral locally, with near unanimous outrage at this contemptible reaction by the city to a homeowner who just experienced a devastating loss. It was picked up the following day by WFAA Channel 8, who ran the story that night. On Friday I spoke with Chris Salcedo on WBAP. A letter to the editor ran in the Star Telegram on Saturday.
I am not done yet.
In January of this year Mayor Betsy Price announced a Compassionate City initiative, saying “compassion is the backbone of what strong cities should do.” A Facebook page – Compassionate Fort Worth – was launched. Apparently the Code Compliance Department was left off the distribution list.
Do you honestly feel that this type of intimidation and thug-like tactics are an appropriate initial reaction to a taxpaying homeowner who has just been rendered homeless, who just had a lifetime of possessions destroyed by fire? Do you feel it is proper for the first response of the city to threaten repairs, demolitions, civil penalties and criminal and civil court actions? Exactly how many homeowners do not immediately begin the process of rebuilding? One percent? Two, maybe? Do you feel it is appropriate for the city government, within days of such a fire, to attempt to cower and browbeat fellow Fort Worthians to hop, skip and jump to the outrageous demands of a government gone wild? I am told by your department that this letter is standard operating procedure. If so, your standard operating procedure is a disgrace. It is shameful, demeaning, abusive and insulting to innocent people who have suffered a loss. I was also told that the 30 day deadline was not hard and fast. So why demand it in a letter? Just because you can?
Even worse, this is a form letter addressed to “Dear Owner/Heir.” I can only surmise by “Heir” it means that if I happened to have perished in the fire, the following is what is expected of my heirs. Ghoulish does not even begin to describe the tone of this letter.
I am not concerned about myself. I fortunately have the means and the resources to land on my feet, provide for my family and eventually return to whole. My concern is for others, who may be terribly traumatized by such an event, who may have lost more than I lost (including loved ones), who may not know where to turn next, only to run into a buzz saw of threats and intimidation by their own city government, which intuitively seems to believe that its citizens are scofflaws and sharecroppers who must be whipped into submission. The letter sent to me cannot be unsent and I would never kowtow to your threats. But I will make it my mission to ensure that no other citizen of this city will ever again be subject to such abuse at a difficult and traumatic time.
Fort Worth’s first response should be an offer to help, to provide and recommend resources to assist property owners in rebuilding in way that will conform to building standards, not add to their stress in a very trying time. The Fort Worth Code Compliance Department should immediately review its standard procedures for incidents such as this and develop policies which treat victims of disaster humanely and with a commitment to assist, not threaten; a goal of cooperation, not intimidation.
I would give you ten days to develop an acceptable plan, but I’m not that kind of guy.
Nine seems about right.
125 Willow Ridge Road
Fort Worth, TX 76103
Mayor Betsy Price
City Manager David Cooke
Councilman Cary Moon
Councilman Sal Espino
Councilman Zim Zimmerman
Councilwoman Gyna Bivens
Councilwoman Ann Zedah
Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray
Councilman Dennis Singleton
Councilman Jungus Jordan
Jobin Panicker, WFAA-TV
Todd Unger, WFAA-TV
Chris Salcedo, WBAP 820