Code Enforcement Letter Received

Visitor Question: We received a letter which was a fill-in-the-blanks city code violation form that says we have 10 days to get started and 30 days to complete re-roofing the house. We have tarps on our bad roof and no money for a new one. What will the city do to us? (Dallas)

Editors Comment: We're sorry to hear about that difficulty.

If the work is not started and completed within the specified time frame, the city probably will issue a summons asking you to appear in municipal court.

If that happens, by all means, go to court and tell the judge about your situation. That is far better than staying at home, which can result in a warrant for your arrest.

In many places judges are more merciful than code enforcement officials. The code inspector's job is to look for situations where a code is not met, whereas a judge is seeking to have the intent of the law met.

A judge who hears your story and takes pity on you might lengthen the amount of time you have to complete the work, and might expand that time line substantially.

However, eventually you will need to comply, unless the judge finds that the code official was in error. Since you say you have tarps over the roofline, probably the code inspector was following the letter of the law though.

The judge can and will impose fines, often a daily fine in fact. The judge can order you to appear in court at other intervals to report on progress. If you cannot or will not pay fines, that also can result in a warrant for your arrest.

A good roof is one of the most elementary and important tasks of home maintenance. If you cannot keep the house completely and permanently water-tight, you put yourself in danger of many kinds of deterioration within the house.

If you cannot afford a new roof, even with using inexpensive contractors or with labor performed by friends and family, it will be time to think about whether you can afford home ownership at all.

It isn't a disgrace to be a renter, even though almost all Americans aspire to be home owners. It might be time to look at your options by finding out the cost of renting the home you need and by finding out the value of your home in its current state.

You also might find there are government programs to grant you all or part of the cost of a new roof, or to enable you to have a very low-interest loan.

To learn about such government programs, start at your city hall. Ask about Community Development Block Grant programs and any other housing programs they know about. If you are friendly and civil in your approach, you might learn about state programs or outreach programs of private banks that would be helpful to you.

We also have a page giving a very brief overview of such programs on this website. Use the search box in the left column to look for government housing assistance on the site. Taking a look at that might give you more confidence when you go to city hall.

If you find a person at city hall who is at all helpful, that would be the time to mention that you have received a code enforcement letter. We suggest that you not volunteer that information at first.

In short, please do not take hasty action; almost every place if you obey your instruction to appear in court, you will have a little more time. But also please do not ignore this and hope it will go away. It will not.

Even without the code enforcement element of this, it's probably time to do something about your roofing situation.

Best of luck to you.


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