Can a renter be held responsible for violating the San Bernardino Municipal Code?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Can a renter be held responsible for violating the San Bernardino Municipal Code related to property maintenance?  The short answer is yes.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I prosecuted many renters for property maintenance violations.  The City of San Bernardino’s property maintenance ordinance is found codified in Chapter 15.24 of the San Bernardino Municipal Code.

“Maintenance requirements for single family residences, multiresidential, commercial and industrial property. Any person owning, renting, occupying, managing, or otherwise having charge of any single family residence, multi-residential, commercial and industrial property shall maintain the property in accordance with the following minimum standards. Failure to comply with these minimum standards shall constitute a violation of this Code.”  San Bernardino Municipal Code section 15.24.040, emphasis added.

Often, a criminal defendant or someone who had been served an administrative citation or who had a notice of violation would ask why the City was prosecuting the renter instead of the owner.  The reply was that the City had the power under the Code to charge the renter or occupant.

Some people would say that their rental agreement or state law required the owner or landlord, or landlord’s agent to maintain the premises.  Those people (including lawyers) would be told, either by city lawyers, or by the administrative hearing officer, that those were legal obligations between the landlord and the tenant, not between the City and the tenant (or for that matter, between the City and the landlord).

What is the public policy behind this ordinance? The City of San Bernardino wants code compliant properties.  They seek to find the party most likely to bring about the transformation from code deficient to code compliant.  Often, that is the person actually living at the property, not the out-of-town or out-of-state landlord.  Sometimes, both the landlord and the tenant are cited.  It may not seem fair for the tenants are responsible, especially if there are contractual terms that require the landlord to provide property maintenance. However, the ordinance provides that the City can cite the tenant.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney, section 15.24.040 only applied to single family properties and duplexes and triplexes.  In 2009, (after I had become Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands) that section was merged with 15.24.050, which applied to commercial, industrial and multi-family residential properties.  I would suspect that tenants are not being cited for algae-covered pools in large complexes.  I would expect that there would be a defense to such a citation.  A much closer case would be a situation where an out-of-town landlord has designated one of the tenants as their “on-site manager” in exchange for a reduction of rent.  Often these people do not have apparent or express authority to make changes to the property, and they certainly do not have the means to make changes.  Arguably, if cited, those tenants were not managing or have real charge of the property, they were just the face of the landlord at the property, so that the landlord did not have to deal directly with the other tenants.

Therefore, for tenants faced with code enforcement citations or penalties in the City of San Bernardino, there is no defense of “just a tenant” to Chapter 15.24 violations, at least not in single-family residences.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Is Devore in the City of San Bernardino? Or, how to find if San Bernardino County land is incorporated or unicorporated?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

One of the highest keyword requests regarding the search term “San Bernardino” is finding out what geographic locations are included in a particular jurisdiction. One such search is “Is Devore in the City of San Bernardino?”   Why would someone want to know if a particular place is in a certain jurisdiction?  Here are some reasons:

1. The amount of taxes.  Different locations in California can have different sales tax rates.  At this moment, the City of San Bernardino’s sales tax rate is 9%.  The City of Redlands’ rate is 8.75%  Similarly,the amount of transient occupancy tax.  This is sometimes called a “bed” tax, the amount a hotel or motel collects based on the lodging’s nightly rate.   There are often different rates between cities, and between incorporated areas and unincorporated areas.

2. Liability.  If someone tripped and fell on a sidewalk, or hit a pothole, that person would need to know which entity to file a government claim with, and should the claim be rejected, against which entity to sue in court.  Of course, sometimes it does not involve a government entity, and sometimes it involves more than one entity, so knowing where the public property is located is only part of the inquiry.  Government Code section 835 (discussed briefly here) requires ownership or control of the property.  Just because property is within an entity does not mean it belongs to the city or county.  It could belong to private entities or to another public agency, like a school district, a flood control district, a water agency, or a combination of agencies and private ownership.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I had a case where the location, according to conventional maps, was right on the border of the City of Highland and the City of San Bernardino.  When I was the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, I had a case that involved a City easement on Redlands Unified School District property, adjacent to private agricultural land.

3. Voting.  Obviously, someone cannot vote if they are not with the corporate limits of the municipality.

4. Business Licenses.

5. Which set of local laws apply.  This is important for land use, zoning and code enforcement law.

So, how do we find out if Devore is within the City of San Bernardino or unincorporated County of San Bernardino.   One good way used to be the website of the Local Agency Formation Commission of San Bernardino, commonly abbreviated as LAFCO (and pronounced Laugh Co).  LAFCOs are county-wide organizations governed by the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Act of 2000, found at Government Code section 56000, et seq.  However, LAFCO’s maps are currently unavailable as of this writing.  San Bernardino County LAFCO can tell you the jurisdiction or jurisdictions of a particular place.  An interested party can call them, or if you need a map, make a California Public Records Act request.  If an interested party makes a Public Records Act request, they should ask for a record.  Such as, “a map that shows the jurisdictional boundaries of x location.”  Remember, the California Public Records Act is for records, not for general information.  Agencies do not have to answer questions, though sometimes it is easier to do so and they will do so in lieu of producing a record.

That means that someone can try to find out by looking in the City of San Bernardino’s website, and the County of San Bernardino’s website.   On the City of San Bernardino’s website, we find the Ward map, which shows the current division of the City for each council member.   Devore is generally thought of being where the 215 and the 15 meet.  You can see on the Ward map that location is not in the City of San Bernardino.  If we are to believe Google Maps, which is far from determinative, it shows the shaded northwest border of the City of San Bernardino  a few parcels away from  Devore Road.

What about the County of San Bernardino?  The County has a Geographical Information Services (GIS) component to its Information Services Department.  I know I have used their mapping applications in the past, but they do not appear to be online at this time.

The short answer is, from my experience as a Deputy City Attorney in the San Bernardino City Attorney’s Office, from having gone to public school with people from Devore, and as a matter of common knowledge, Devore is in unincorporated San Bernardino County.

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

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Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708