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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Open house time

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When asked last week if his Lyme residence would be considered an illegal structure, James G. Millington Jr. said: “It is and it isn’t.”

He constructed his home on Point Peninsula in 2007 without a building permit. Lyme had no code enforcement officer at that time, so this function would have been the responsibility of Jefferson County.

But now Michael L. Kieff, director of code enforcement for the county, has said that any lingering issues regarding Mr. Millington’s home would need to be handled by the state. That’s because Lyme took over jurisdiction of code enforcement but can’t oversee this case because of who carries out these duties: Mr. Millington, the town’s code enforcement officer.

In addition to his vague response on if his residence was built illegally, Mr. Millington admitted: “A lot of people build without permits, and it’s very difficult to enforce it.” These are peculiar sentiments coming from someone who earns his livelihood seeing to it that people adhere to relevant town codes.

Mr. Millington said he constructed his home without a building permit because his architect and next-door neighbor, G. Norman Schreib, sold his home and moved to Florida without leaving the floor plans.

But this excuse sounds hollow as Mr. Millington’s home was built in 2007 and Mr. Schreib didn’t move out of the area until 2011. A Jefferson County building permit is required before construction on new homes begins. Mr. Millington should have obtained a building permit prior to crews breaking ground on his residence.

In addition to his work with Lyme, Mr. Millington inspects buildings in Dexter and serves as zoning officer in Cape Vincent. Officials in Cape Vincent also were considering Mr. Millington for the code enforcement officer in their community.

But the oddity of having a code enforcement officer who can’t see to it that his own home adheres to local statutes proved too much for Cape Vincent. Officials there opted not to hire Mr. Millington for the additional position.

Given that Lyme decided to start enforcing its own code, it would be a clear conflict of interest to have Mr. Millington conduct the inspection. Mr. Kieff said the state must take over the case.

This story exposes weaknesses in the building inspection process on both the municipal and county level. Mr. Millington conceded how difficult it is to enforce codes, and he demonstrates his point by living in a home that was never checked.

He has then continued to seek employment enforcing codes in various communities, which raises an interesting question: Would he accept his own excuse from a resident for not following the law? He needs to come up a better explanation for why he never sought a building permit to do this work.

Mr. Millington said he has been trying to get his problem resolved for two years, and this is good. But now that his home has been in existence for six years, what happens if something it’s not up to code? How much of a revision would he be willing to do on his residence to ensure it complies with statutes?

Mr. Millington must live out the values his espouses as a professional: Homes need to conform to government standards. If it’s necessary to involve the state on this matter, so be it.

But residences need building permits for a reason, and that’s to make sure they are safe to occupy and can be assessed properly for tax purposes. Mr. Millington the homeowner should listen to Mr. Millington the code enforcer and get his own abode checked out.

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