COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — With a radio transmitter and carbon monoxide detector in hand, Jody Young strolls through the streets of Columbus to ensure landlords and tenants are complying with city code.

The issue at hand Friday? A vacant unit in an apartment building in the 300 block of East 14th Avenue near Ohio State’s campus with open windows not boarded up with wooden planks, crumbling cement steps, and a myriad of structural problems.

Young, a city of Columbus code enforcement officer, is one of more than 50 inspectors who respond to complaints pertaining to anything from grass surpassing the city’s 12-inch threshold to gas leaks.

“They are brave soldiers out here trying to make our city safer,” Cynthia Rickman, assistant director of the Department of Building and Zoning Services, said.

Columbus City Code Enforcement Officer Jody Young

In 2021, the city’s code enforcement officers responded to nearly 39,000 complaints related to three types of code violations: environmental issues, like solid waste or a bedbug infestation; zoning issues, including improper storage of an inoperable vehicle; or housing issues, which can be anything from a broken furnace to a jammed window, according to the city’s building and zoning website.

“Basically with code enforcement, we generally get code requests from 311,” Young said. “A personal complaint about something, and then we go out and inspect it and write up any violations we see.”

“Anybody can call,” Young said. “Even someone driving down the street can call.”

If an enforcement officer determines that a code violation exists, Young said a notice will be issued to either the property owner or tenant – depending on who’s responsible – which mandates them to address the issue within a certain timeframe.

While environmental and zoning notices require people to address the issue within 15 and 20 days, respectively, housing violations provide property managers or tenants upwards of 30 days, Young said.

An apartment building in the 300 block of East 14th Avenue inspected by Columbus code enforcement.

“We’re gonna want to see some progress within the 30 days – talking to the owners, talking to the tenants,” Young said. “Now, as long as property owners are doing what they need to do to remedy it, we do give that a little more time depending on the extensiveness of the issue, like if they need to hire contractors.”

If someone refuses to comply with a notice, Young said a warning letter is delivered that provides an additional 15 days for the problem to be addressed.

After the 15 days are up and if the code violation still hasn’t been remedied, the case proceeds to the city attorney’s office – and from there, civil and criminal court, which Young said is the last resort.

“The last thing we wanna do is file a court case,” Young said.

While most property owners eventually comply with code violation notices, Young said her office has received complaints from tenants who claim their landlord retaliated against and evicted them for reporting issues to a code enforcement officer.

Under Ohio law, retaliatory evictions are illegal, Young said. For those facing eviction from a potential case of retaliation, she said her office has a designated point person who handles those types of complaints.

A carbon monoxide detector used by Columbus code enforcement officers.

All a tenant needs to do, she said, is call the city’s code enforcement office at 311, and it will investigate the issue.

Young and Chris Kelly, a social worker with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, said it’s important for tenants to continue paying their rent even if a landlord has failed to make repairs.

“They (tenants) frequently say, ‘He wasn’t fixing it, so I didn’t pay it,'” Kelly said. “Well, that makes sense to us, but that’s a great way to get yourself evicted.”

Although Young said some city residents or property owners aren’t too thrilled to see her approach their front door with a code violation notice, most people are pleased that the city is placing pressure on landlords or tenants to fix property-related problems.

“When I see violations and I come back and it’s transformed, that’s what I like,” she said.

To file a city code violation complaint, call the Department of Building and Zoning Services at 311 or 614-645-3111.