Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Savoy Hotel - and Chapter 10 of Houston's Code of Ordinances

The Savoy Hotel is being demolished this weekend, after ten years of neglect. That building was high-profile, but there are many dangerous buildings in Houston. Not all of them are demolished before someone gets hurt. Two children died last summer, crushed by a collapsing staircase at the Westwood Fountains Apartment Complex.

Dangerous buildings are addressed in Chapter 10 of Houston’s Code of Ordinances . Chapter 10 is enforced by the Neighborhood Protection Corps. They bring their cases before the Building and Standards Commission. Unfortunately, $2,000 is the maximum fine for a violation under Chapter 10, and that’s too low to get the attention of big owners.

There were certainly countless fines levied on the Savoy Hotel, adding up to perhaps tens of thousands of dollars. But the owners didn’t react until they saw $1/2 million in demolition fees. Until that endgame, it was cheaper for them to pay the fines than to make their building safe. The owners of the Westwood Fountains Apartments had been fined for several code violations before the staircase collapse. They paid the fines, but never fixed the stairs. It’s the same story all over Houston.

Dangerous buildings should have no place in our City. The Savoy Hotel was demolished before anyone could get hurt. Two children died at the Westwood Fountains Apartment Complex. Let’s increase the maximum fines on dangerous buildings. Make owners take note. Make it cheaper to fix things than to pay the fines.

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