Oakland tragedy shows danger of taking codes safety rules lightly

Property owners often chafe at building codes requiring them to maintain structures in safe, healthy manners. That can be costly, so a certain amount of judgment should be exercised in enforcement.

But what can happen when scofflaws get away with ignoring the rules entirely has been demonstrated in Oakland, Calif.

There, an old warehouse converted into apartments caught fire during a party Friday night. At this writing, 36 bodies had been recovered. Oakland officials feared more were buried in the rubble.

Reports on the building make it clear it was a tragedy in the making. For one thing, used shipping pallets stacked atop each other were being used as staircases.

City officials have said they were in the process of attempting to inspect the building, but had not been able to gain entrance to it.

It is not uncommon for local officials in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio to react to health and safety hazards by issuing “raze or repair” orders.

Property owners are given time to make necessary improvements.

If they fail to do so, they can be ordered to demolish the affected buildings.

On some occasions, that process is preceded by orders for people living in buildings deemed to be unacceptably unsanitary or unsafe to move out.

Building inspectors should not view themselves as property owners’ adversaries, of course.

Issuing expensive orders or collecting big fines for relatively minor infractions is absurd. When clear and present dangers exist, decisive action is warranted, however.

Had that occurred in Oakland, at least three dozen lives would have been saved.