Code Enforcement Right to Enter Property

by Ryan
(Yuma, CO USA)

Visitor Question: Can a Non-Certified, non-law enforcement Code Enforcer in Colorado enter your property without permission or a warrant?

Editors Reply: We are not attorneys, and further, none of us practice city planning in Colorado. However, here are a few general observations about code enforcement rights in the U.S.

At one end of the spectrum, many municipalities have a firm policy that code enforcement officers (who are not sworn law enforcement officers) do not have any right of entry onto private property. This is true especially in areas where property maintenance standards are lax, property rights are strong, or property maintenance issues are few and far between due to affluence or a newer building stock.

However, we have to say that using the example of the International Code Council's Property Maintenance Code, which is adopted by ordinance in many cities and towns, some codes will say that the code official has the right to enter the premises at reasonable times in order to make any inspections relevant to matters covered by the code.

This model code, which would represent the most common property maintenance code in use in the U.S., goes on to say that if the structure is occupied, the code official is to identify himself or herself and request entry at reasonable times of the day. If that permission is denied, the code official has the right to request all remedies allowed under state or local law.

So if they have adopted this particular code, or others that may be similar, the city or town will be a little more daring in pursuit of what they see as a public good, especially and particularly if the code official has reasonable cause to believe that there is a code violation. Even without what the code calls reasonable cause, the code gives such towns broad discretion to allow or encourage walking around building exteriors to discover code violations.

Between these two extremes, you can find plenty of variation. Some jurisdictions only allow interior inspections based on specific provisions of their law.

Examples of the latter would be requirements for a complete building inspection upon transfer of ownership or occupancy, requirements related to historic preservation, and criteria leading to a decision to condemn a building that appears to be in such poor condition as to constitute a safety hazard.

However, as a general rule of thumb until you know otherwise, the code enforcement officer (same as code enforcement inspector) can be assumed to have the right to enter private property at reasonable hours. Another wrinkle is that many jurisdictions may allow code violation letters to be sent out after a neighbor invites code enforcement personnel onto his or her property, from which your property can be observed.

We do not know of states where code enforcement officers can seek warrants from a judge, but it would not be a complete surprise to find such a practice, given this "reasonable cause" language in the model code.

So we are unable to answer the specific question because we do not know which code or codes the jurisdiction may be have adopted. Even if we had that information, we would not know what the practical policy would be if a property owner is resistant to inviting a code enforcement official onto private property.

But we hope these general observations will point those of you who have this question in the right direction. Learn what codes apply and then ask direct questions at your city hall.


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