Code officer ignores my written complaints

by Tree Hugger
(Rather not disclose)

Visitor Question: A wealthy and gregarious neighbor has SCHMOOZED the code officer into looking the other way on his development.

I have filed several complaints on his project over the last 8 months, citing the code and providing dates and photos. I have not received a reply. The DEP also supports this owner, giving me reasons that make no sense.

When I invoked the freedom of information act in an attempt to understand, I found some alarming "irregularities". Do I need to hire a lawyer to get the code officer to do his job?

There is no love lost between myself and his boss, the town manager. Would a citizen petition help? My neighbors want the neighbor held accountable but are unwilling to put themselves "out there". Thank you for this great forum.

Editors Reply: It sounds like you are taking the right steps in trying to resolve this situation. For the benefit of other readers, it is possible and often helpful to make a written code complaint if there is any suspicion that a verbal or online complaint will go unanswered. It is also worthwhile to try to obtain any internal correspondence that a FOAA request might uncover.

To answer your question, if the issue is important enough to you, and enough of a threat to your financial or physical well-being, you might want to hire an attorney. Sometimes a sternly worded letter from an attorney will cause a city to start doing the right thing. At other times, a civil suit may be necessary and appropriate. The lawsuit would not be aimed specifically at the code officer, but at the city government in general for not enforcing its laws.

An attorney might identify state or federal agencies that could become involved, thus bypassing local schmoozing and local politics. We mention that because you identify yourself as Tree Hugger, and there are many state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to environmental matters.

If your neighbors do not want to be public in their complaints, it sounds unlikely that they would want to sign a petition. If you cannot convince them to join with you in making complaints, whether by phone, online platforms, or in public meetings, you are a solo act and can try to document and then amplify your complaints in social and traditional media.

Take advantage of any upcoming elections to pressure candidates, whether incumbents or not, to do the right thing. In this environment, it's likely that someone else has a grievance about lack of code enforcement, and possibly you can succeed in making this a campaign issue.

Lastly and most expensively, discuss civil action with an attorney. Perhaps in your location, obtaining an injunction against the prohibited activity would be relatively inexpensive in comparison to just putting up with the code violations nearby.

Comments for Code officer ignores my written complaints

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Code Enforcement
by: Anonymous

I feel your pain. For 5 years I have been fighting a neighbor who violated the codes and in turn has ruined my property. The municipality has looked the other way, but has given me an option. However that option will cost me up to $45,000 (yes, that is not a typo). I hired an attorney, but was told that the best option was going against the neighbor and not the municipality. So, after 5 years I have made some headway but now I believe it may be best to go to trial and let the entire case be brought to the public and put the neighbor, all of the municipality employees and the elected officials on the witness stand. I have the support of the county and several engineers I hired. Although it hasn't been cheap, it is far less expensive than the $45,000. Good luck to you!

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