Homeowners must follow health codes

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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Owners of houses or mobile homes they construct themselves still must follow Indiana health codes, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today. The appellate court overturned a trial court's ruling that a section of Indiana code exempted certain homeowners from obtaining a permit for septic systems.

At issue in Washington County Health Department and Mike Haddon v. Jeff and Robin White, No. 88A04-0703-CV-126, is whether the Whites' mobile home, which had a discharge pipe running from the bottom of it to the ground, was exempt from health-code and permit requirements.

Mike Haddon, a Washington County health officer, noticed two mobile homes on a property owned by the Whites in an unincorporated portion of Washington County. He saw a waste discharge pipe coming out of the bottom of one of the homes and knew the Whites had not gotten a permit for a septic system.

Haddon sent a letter to the Whites asking to inspect their property, pursuant to Indiana Code, to check for conditions that may foster or transmit diseases. The Whites refused inspection and filed a petition for injunctive relief that WCHD not be allowed to search their property without a valid search warrant. They also argued under Indiana Code 36-7-8-3(d), they weren't required to have any kind of permit for their mobile homes.

Haddon replied with a Notice and Order to Comply letter to the Whites, citing they had committed three health-code violations. WCHD also filed a counterclaim for injunctive relief, which the trial court denied. The court ruled the Whites were exempt to any permits under I.C. 36-7-8-3(d) part of Indiana building codes, which states, "an ordinance adopted under this section does not apply to private homes that are built by individuals and used for their own occupancy."

Subsection (d) allows an individual to be exempt from building codes for unincorporated areas of a county, as long as the owner built the home him or herself for his or her own use. The Whites contend that even though they did not construct the mobile home themselves, additional construction was required, plumbing and electricity must be hooked up, and a concrete foundation poured. However, wrote Senior Judge George Hoffman, the Whites never produced any evidence they did this work themselves.

Because the Whites didn't build the mobile homes placed on their property, subsection (d) does not apply to them and they are required to comply with health-code regulations, specifically Indiana Code 410 IAC 6-8.1-33, which required them to obtain a permit for a sewage disposal system prior to putting the mobile homes on their property.

Judge Hoffman wrote that subsection (d) is not a global exception that exempts individuals from building codes and health codes. The trial court erred in concluding anyone who satisfies subsection (d) is exempt from the health codes and it erred in denying WCHD's petition for injunctive relief. The case is remanded to the trial court.

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