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Code enforcement targeting an individual

by Mary
(Arkansas)

Could I be targeted for code violations?

Editors Respond: We assume that you mean that you feel that the city or a city employee is targeting you specifically and personally for excessive code enforcement.

Keeping in mind that code enforcement is carried out by human beings, not robots, almost anything is possible. Much code enforcement involves an element of judgment and subjectivity. Thus it is subject to both overzealous pursuit of violations on the part of an inspector or the local government in general, and to just inappropriate conclusions.

We hope that your town has a good municipal court where you are given a full opportunity to defend yourself if the charges are false. Some municipal courts consistently uphold the code inspectors unless the person cited has dramatic evidence that they are not in violation of the ordinances.

Other courts think that their inspectors (or a particular inspector) is too strict, and therefore are more apt to side with the defendant.

So even if you are being targeted, there is no need to assume that the situation will turn out badly every time for you. If you think an inspector or the city government has a personal vendetta with you, you should point out the factors that make you think that to the judge.

This would require good research on your part to make sure that you list every time you have been cited for a code violation, what the actual circumstances were, and what happened when the case against you reached municipal court.

In the few instances we know about personally where someone was targeted, the reasons usually were either politically motivated, or resulted from a situation in which a resident was unusually obstinate about not correcting a code violation and thereafter often received a code violation notice.

If it is politics, because you are a vocal critic of the mayor or some other elected official or perhaps the person who is in charge of code enforcement, you will need to be careful that your method of refuting the charge does not further inflame passions of the political person against you. We mean that you should not attack back in a personal way, even if that is exactly what you feel like doing. The consequence of a combative stance could be further retaliation from politicos.

Next, your past actions (well, we don't mean to be personal, so we mean the past actions of someone who is in this circumstance) could have angered the code enforcement office.

For instance, if you are loud and vocal about how unfair your first code violation citation was, this could lead to their being particularly watchful for an opportunity to get revenge. We have known of a couple of instances where someone became very angry at the city, and was pretty loud about it.

Both code inspectors and city administrators are just human beings too, so if they are criticized in a particularly hurtful way, they might be motivated to make sure you don't get away with anything.

Another thing that happens is that code inspectors may generalize. We all know that some people are just notoriously terrible about maintaining their properties, so these people tend to attract repeated code violation letters. Most of them may be richly deserved, but after a fair amount of repetition of dirty or unsafe conditions on a property, the inspector may overgeneralize to think conditions on that parcel nearly always merit a code letter.

Without more detail, this is all we can say, Mary. If you honestly think you are complying with your town's codes, you indeed might be targeted for harsh enforcement. Tell it to the judge.


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When Code Enforcement doesn't comply
by: Anonymous

To begin, my neighbor has led me to my last straw. She retaliated by calling code enforcement on me after I contacted her landlord to complain about the woman's daughter parking on my lawn every day and using my swale as their own landfill.

The day after I contacted her landlord I found a razor blade embedded in my tire. That was on 3/1/18.

This is where it gets screwed up. I was notified by code enforcement on 3/31, via registered mail, of a Notice of Violation and Hearing set for 4/25. The letter said a complaint and notice of violation was given on 3/2, and the Notice of violation and hearing was dated 3/8 but the investigator didn't date his signature and the envelope was post marked 3/29!I emailed him asking for an extension, provided photos of the post marks, and told him the issue with the neighbor, and that if he had left a notice that day, she very well may have taken it. I explained that I knew nothing about it until I got the registered letter, almost a month later!

He responded that I'd have to ask for an extension at the hearing. So what if they don't give me one? They'll begin fining me daily, for something I was given no time to resolve.

Another issue is that one of the violations is for a window unit air conditioner...except they called it a wall unit and cited a code that dealt with obstacles to emergency exits and inhibiting the ability to board the window in severe weather. This is South, south Florida where you can't live without air conditioning, in a 1959 house. I searched for hours through the codes and found nothing regarding window units. As for emergency exit, the same 11x14 common area room has 2 doors and a 2nd window, and it can be pushed out if need be. As for boarding, uh, we get days notice of hurricanes, versus the 5 minutes needed to remove it from the window. He is just making stuff up with no codes to back up his violation claim.

Editors Comment: There are several issues here. Yes, it is very unfortunate that you didn't receive the notice of violation in a timely manner, but the inspector very probably is telling the truth in saying that only the judge has the power to grant an extension. In our experience most municipal judges will do so, but obviously it is not pleasant to have to go to court an extra time.

As for the fairness of the air conditioner violation, we do not want to comment without full and complete information, which would be difficult to do online. So we will say that again, it looks as if you have done good homework to prepare for your court appearance.

Try to tell the judge all of this, and usually you will obtain a reasonable outcome if you act respectful of the judge, inspector, and city codes. If you let your anger get the best of you, though, you might be treated more harshly, so remain quiet, focused, and pleasant for the best result.

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unfair code enforcement
by: Anonymous

I owned 40 or 50 pieces of property including an older motel and trailer park on the same parcel, am 3rd Generation and 68 years old. Among other thing too numerous to comment on, the city re-zoned my trailer park at a meeting, forbidding any more trailers on the property, without notification from anyone. I found out about it about 3 weeks later by a friend. Now the inspector has personally condemned the motel and all the rooms as unsafe, which means none of the rooms can be rented!! I also have a building on Main Street. The City put in a new sidewalk and broke my water line and now refuses to repair it and I can't rent the building..... now what???

Editors Comment: Of course we can't comment on the merits or lack or merit of the rezoning or condemnation. But just as a matter of principle, your property should not be rezoned without notice unless it is part of a massive city-wide zoning covered by your local media.

As for a broken water line, the city should repair it.

You are in a situation where you are going to have to get control of your understandable anger and fear, and then attempt to have a reasonable and civil conversation with reasonable people. Bypass the inspector and go to your elected officials, which would be a mayor and city councilperson, whatever those may be called in your location. If the inspector(s) in question has a boss, have a quiet conversation with that person. Make sure you are understanding the pertinent laws and requirements, try to impress them with your reasonableness and willingness to cooperate with the community, and ask what can be done to relieve all three tense situations.

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