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Code Enforcement Letters Not Received

by Nick
(New Haven, IN)

Visitor Question: So I had a rather large problem arise involving a code enforcement and wanted some info before dealing with it.

A complaint was issued for my property due to high weeds in my flower beds. Code enforcement then investigated and agreed it needed to be fixed (abated). They issued a code warning of some kind via certified mail. I never received this mail due to me working late hours so I was never awake or at home to sign for the mail. So I wasn't given it.

Code enforcement then issued a ticket roughly one or two weeks later I'm told, and they issued it via certified mail as well. That ticket was also never received so I was never informed of the issue or to set up a court date to have the issue resolved.

I was then issued another ticket 2-3 weeks later through certified mail which I did receive. I then fixed the issue the next day. I hadn't fixed the issue before then because I didn't know it was an issue. I have lived in my home several years and never had any complaints for this issue so I never made a point to do anything about it.

The ticket said I had 30 days from delivery to respond to the notification and set up a court date or plead guilty to the issue and accept whatever the judge decides. I was notified on the 3rd of one month and responded roughly 32-33 days later due to the 30 day mark occurring on a weekend and the courts being closed for a holiday. So then when I responded they said I didn't respond soon enough because apparently they really only give me 20 days to respond and concluded I ignored them and did the session without me.

I then learned of the first ticket and the missed court date for that. Then since I never responded to the original ticket either since I didn't know it existed, now they are trying to fine me $500 roughly and threaten to suspend my license if I don't pay it.

This is due to tall weeds in my flower bed, which have never been an issue in the past, and which have been fixed for over a month. What should or can I do? I would really prefer to not have to pay these fines and have them on my record since I never received any warning in the first place to fix the issue.

Editors Reply: Yes, you do have a problem here. The first thing to do is to ask the city if they sent the first two certified letters by way of what is called "return receipt requested." This is common practice among code officials, but not universal. If they did so, they can readily see that you didn't sign for or receive the first two letters. You then should be able to present that evidence to the municipal judge and get this potential fine greatly reduced.

Code enforcement officials and municipal judges, listen up. Not everyone is awake and at home when the post office attempts to deliver certified mail! It is important to request verification that someone actually signed for a certified letter.

Nick, you do have to own the problem of not complying with the terms of the letter that you did receive within the 30 days required. It's a hard lesson that weekend days and holidays count toward whatever deadline they have given you.

But of course that small piece of it does not justify a $500 fine. The authors of this site have not heard of a municipal court being able to revoke a driver's license for an offense unrelated to driving, by the way, but it is not worth the risk.

To be concise, we suggest that you act very quickly to understand whether the city sent your letters return receipt requested. Ask the code inspector or administrator who signed the letter that you did receive. If you communicate and sound sane and intelligent, you will receive much better treatment than if you remain silent.

We can't emphasize enough that in the event of a problem such as this one, communicating in a civil tone (not an angry one) will really help you solve the problem.

If the city did not know that you did not receive their first two letters, you may be out of luck on the fine. You may be able to ask the municipal judge to reduce the fine, based on your circumstances and past good behavior in terms of municipal codes. Frankly, you have logic and common sense on your side here.

But if the judge refuses, you will have to figure out how to afford the fine. Many judges will allow what amounts to a payment plan.

If you have an existing relationship with an attorney or legal aid service, you should ask them for advice right away. There could be a pattern of discrimination or judicial overreach at play in your particular location.

Good luck with this, Nick.




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