A petition started by a Mina resident to protest a proposed amendment to Mineral County building, fire, and wildland-urban interface codes is causing a stir across the county.
The proposal, which came before the Mineral County Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 6, is to adopt the 2009 version of the International Fire, Building and Wildland-Urban Interface codes.
Glen Inlow, who pointed out he’s a private citizen with an opinion and not a lawyer or practicing law, said he started the petition after he spent a week digging through the fire and wildland-urban interface codes, and discovered several he found disturbing.
Inlow said he wasn’t sure how many people signed the petition, but he would be happy if 100 Mineral County residents signed on.
He listed five provisions of the 2006 version of the code — Inlow said the actual proposal before the board is to bring the county into compliance with the 2006 edition of the code, although T.C. Knight, Mineral County Fire Chief, said the code will be updated to the 2009 version — on a flyer he used to promote the petition that was posted in several places around Hawthorne and on Facebook.
Knight said he was unaware of the fliers and the petition before he was approached to comment for this story.
Two versions of the flyer are circulating. One appeared around Hawthorne, Inlow called it a public notice, and invited people to come to Wednesday’s comissioner’s meeting. Another two-page version circulated with Inlow’s petition, he said.
Knight and Inlow agreed that wording was crucial to understanding the code.
“I think someone has gone through there and paraphrased some of the codes, and incompletely cited them in kind of a negative connotation where I believe if you went though these and did your research and read the full code, they’ve missed the intent here,” Knight said.
One of Inlow’s complaints is with a provision in the code that requires a permit for cutting and welding on private property, which he said infringes on his rights.
Knight said the permitting process for cutting and welding in Mineral County was simple. People hoping to cut or weld should call the fire station, let them know about their plans and, if no objections were raised — high winds are the most common — get to work, he said.
But, while Inlow seemed irritated by the specific requirement of the code, the idea of permits seem to be an issue more important to him.
“My complaint is because of them trying to remove our freedoms and take our freedoms away from us. And we don’t need that,” Inlow said. “We’re Americans. I don’t need permission from law and fire officials to cut and weld on my own property.”
But the section of the code Inlow found most disturbing is 104.3, which he said gives the Mineral County Fire Official, also Knight, “authority to search your house for possible [c]ode [v]iolations without a warrant.”
Inlow came to that conclusion after reading the code and a California training manual for fire inspectors, he said.
Inlow said couldn’t remember where he found the manual, and a search by the Independent-News didn’t turn up a similar manual. Inlow’s assertions about the manual’s contents could not be confirmed but there was also no evidence to contradict what he said.
Section 104.3 of the code empowers the fire official, “Whenever it is necessary to make an inspection to enforce the provisions of this code, or whenever the fire code official has reasonable cause to believe that there exists in a building or upon any premises any conditions or violations of this code which make the building or premises unsafe, dangerous or hazardous, the fire code official shall have the authority to enter the building or premises.”
The section also requires the inspections to be made at “reasonable times” and spells out how the official is to identify himself or herself and ask permission to enter and make the inspection, and what steps should be taken to notify the owner of the structure of the inspection.
“If entry is refused, the fire code official has recourse to every remedy provided by law to secure entry,” the code says.
That is the verbiage that bothers Inlow, he said.
“When they put that ‘or other remedy provided by law to secure entry’ that looked to me [like] that “other remedy provided by law” is that law,” he said.
California’s implementation of the code is also of concern to Inlow, he said.
According to the training manual, California fire inspectors are instructed not to use section 104.3 to enter a house without probable cause, because that would give someone whose house was illegally entered standing to sue the state for violating their civil rights, Inlow said.
Instead to enter a house inspectors are to request entry. If the occupant refuse entry, Inlow said the manual said, inspectors are to request a warrant from a judge using the refusal as probable cause to have the warrant issued.
“The judge will sign an inspection warrant based on using they refused to let him in as the probable cause, send it out with a law enforcement officer to deliver it to him, and assist in allowing the person to let him in or arrest him,” Inlow said. “In other words, what they’ve done is they’ve worded this law to be used to eliminate probably cause.”
Inlow went on to say the practice is nearly impossible to challenge, because nobody can get legal standing to file a lawsuit.
Knight disagreed with Inlow’s interpretation, saying the law protects the rights of homeowners by requiring probable cause before he can enter a home.
“I would actually argue that [the international code] states the opposite of what the claim is,” Knight said.
“If you read the code, in its entirety, it actually explains very clearly under what circumstances we’re allowed to go in, and when.”
He also pointed out that the Mineral County fire official has already been given a similar power, a point Knight made several time while discussing the points made on the flyer.
Mineral County fire code passed in May 1939 allow the fire chief or anyone he designates to “enter any building or provisions of his chapter he or they deem necessary to be made.”
“This inspection of premises, the right to enter a premises is not a new concept either,” Knight said. “It’s been on the books since 1939. Of course, all reasonable accommodations for people’s rights are taken into account.”
Knight also pointed to a subsequent code which he said illuminates the intent of the law by exempting the insides of homes from regular inspection.
Inlow said he’s not only offended by the contents of the code, but also bothered by the idea of international codes being applied in Mineral County.
“I do not like any international code governing us in the state of Nevada. This is America, and I do not believe that in freedom your entire life is controlled by permits,” Inlow said. “That is socialism.”