The Reality of the “Broken Windows” Theory

Posted by – Dale Mathes, Code Enforcement Officer

A storage shed upside down in the back yard.  A garage leaning to one side.  Broken windows, peeling paint, drooping gutters, missing siding, rotten decks, falling fences …what’s wrong with this picture?  Well, someone needs to do a little property maintenance.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The City of Auburn Hills has an extensive Property Maintenance Ordinance.  It basically establishes standards to which our community’s homes and buildings must be maintained.  These standards are common sense based and intended to ensure that property is safe, secure, and looking good.

The law is based the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement developed by the late James Q. Wilson.  The approach is psychologically based.  It is founded on the presumption, supported by research, that residents’ perceptions of the safety of their neighborhood is based not on whether there is a high rate of crime, but on whether it appears to be well-tended — that is, whether its residents hold it in mutual regard and uphold the locally accepted standards for civility and property maintenance.

When a violation is found, we encourage people to voluntarily clean up, paint, or fix up their property.  Generally, folks are cooperative but there have been times when – as with many of our tasks – we are forced to use the power of the Courts to ensure compliance.  When that happens, we rely on a select group of contractors to get the job done right.

All in all, most would agree that the City of Auburn Hills is one of the most attractive and inviting communities in southeastern Michigan.  However, when those exceptions occur – when someone doesn’t think a broken window matters -we are charged with the critical task of convincing them that once a house falls apart, a neighborhood and, ultimately, a City can fall apart as well.

This was the 5th installment in “The Dirty Half-Dozen” blog series created by Dale Mathes.  Stay tuned for Dale’s final blog in the series.