Inspection Warrant and Abatement Warrant Requirements for Inspecting Private Property in San Bernardino County, California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Do code enforcement officers need a warrant to inspect private property in San Bernardino County (including incorporated cities and towns in San Bernardino)?  The best practice is to obtain an administrative warrant if the owner/occupant refuses consent to inspect.  Generally, an administrative warrant is not needed if the conditions can be observed from the public right-of-way, or an adjoining property (with permission), and no physical entry onto the property occurs.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, California and the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, California, a good deal of my time was spent on code enforcement.  Both cities emphasized the need for a warrant to inspect and/or abate private property when permission to inspect was denied.  As a private attorney representing private citizens and business entities, some other Inland Empire cities are not as respectful of citizen’s constitutional rights.

Generally, if consent from the property owner and the occupant cannot be obtained before entering private property that is not open to the public, code enforcement officers should obtain an administrative inspection/abatement warrant from the San Bernardino County Superior Court.  Because the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment gives property owners and other occupants an expectation of privacy, an inspection warrant is needed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Connor v. Santa Ana, held that police officers could not legally enter fenced, private property to abate a nuisance without a warrant, even though the property owner had been provided with extensive administrative hearings.  In the absence of a property owner’s and occupant’s consent, barring exigent (emergency) circumstances, government officials engaged in the inspection of private property or abatement of a public nuisance must have a warrant to enter that private property where such entry would invade a constitutionally protected privacy interest.

The Fourth Amendment provides a high degree of privacy protection to the “curtilage” of a residence, the land immediately surrounding and associated with the residence.  However, the United States Constitution allows authorities to inspect open fields at will.  The “open fields” exception only applies to completely unfenced, unimproved property.

Therefore, code enforcement officers may visually inspect private property from the public right-of-way, or from areas that are open to the public such as parking lots, or from private property upon which the officers have obtained consent from the property owner and/or the occupant, depending on the factual circumstances.

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.
A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

What is a San Bernardino County Code Enforcement Attorney and a Riverside County Code Enforcement Attorney?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have been involved in Code Enforcement for a long time now.  My first exposure was when I was working for the City of Santa Clara during law school at Santa Clara University School of Law.  Most of the code enforcement at that time was done by a Deputy City Attorney and involved drinking in public by Santa Clara University students.  Drinking in public is a common infraction or misdemeanor prohibited by cities’ municipal codes.  One of the reasons behind this is because it is not preempted by the State of California’s prohibition of being drunk in public.  Police officers can cite people with open containers of alcohol seen drinking alcohol or presumed to be drinking alcohol without proving that they were intoxicated.  However, generally, the term “Code Enforcement” means property maintenance.

My next brush with code enforcement came as an attorney for Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino.  A common defense for an unlawful detainer defendant is a lack of habitability.  Often, the tenant would complain to a code enforcement agency about the interior conditions of their house or apartment.  However, sometimes this could have disastrous results.  Either the tenant would complain about the conditions and it would have no effect on the unlawful detainer action, the tenant would get cited into court by the code enforcement agency for the problem, or in the absolute worst-case scenario, the conditions were so bad at the apartment or house that the code enforcement agency red tagged the unit, making the tenant homeless.

When I became a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino in February 2001, my role changed from observer of code enforcement to assisting Code Enforcement.  I became a City Prosecutor, prosecuting violations of the San Bernardino Municipal Code in San Bernardino Superior Court, along with other Deputy City Attorneys.   I also co-advised the City of San Bernardino’s Code Enforcement Department (which previously was a Division, and would later become a Division again).  When I was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, I served a similar function, including prosecuting violations of the Redlands Municipal Code, advising staff at administrative hearings, and drafting code enforcement ordinances.

What does being a Code Enforcement Attorney mean in San Bernardino County and Riverside County?  In incorporated cities and towns in San Bernardino County and Riverside County, that means prosecuting violation of city or town ordinances, usually codified in the Municipal Code, or prosecuting violations of County ordinances codified in the San Bernardino County Code or the Riverside County Code.  It also means drafting new ordinances.  Some of these ordinances are new code enforcement tools, new prohibitions, or modifying existing ordinances to allow certain behavior or prohibit certain behavior.  Being a Code Enforcement Attorney also means representing staff in front of administrative hearing officers, both in post deprivation due process hearings, administrative citation hearings or administrative civil penalty hearings.  Code Enforcement Attorneys also review administrative warrant applications, review criminal citations for filing with the court, review proposed hearing orders, and other similar tasks.  Some of those tasks include training code enforcement officers about the law, including constitutional protections regarding inspections of private property.  Code Enforcement Attorneys help agencies respond to California Public Records Act requests.  Code Enforcement Attorneys also help defend cities and code enforcement officers from collateral attacks on the process, including quiet title actions to nullify code enforcement liens, requests for injunctions to stop code enforcement actions, and allegations of Federal Civil Rights violations pursuant to 42 United States Code section 1983.  Code Enforcement Attorneys also can file civil abatement actions, including nuisance actions, and receivership actions under the California Health and Safety Code.  In Redlands and San Bernardino, I was involved in all of those functions.

However, in addition to public Code Enforcement Attorneys, a Code Enforcement Attorney can protect the rights of the public.  As a private attorney, I have helped clients that are faced with demands from overly-aggressive code enforcement agencies.  When picking an attorney to help you on a code enforcement matter, it helps to find one that has experience on the other side, prosecuting violations of municipal codes.  Find someone with experience with the Public Records Act, because that’s an important tool in defending against a code enforcement action.  Find someone who is familiar with the political systems in play in the relevant entity, and who can give you realistic advice about your options.

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.

 

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

Finding cases in Riverside Superior Court and San Bernardino Superior Court

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

How do you find cases in Riverside Superior Court and San Bernardino Superior Court?  You can search online or at the courthouse.

San Bernardino Superior Court’s Online Case Access is easy to use.  I remember when I first started practicing in San Bernardino in 1998, it did not exist.  Back then you had to physically go to the courthouse and pull the file.   The cases get updated once a day, so don’t expect to see a change the same day you go to court.  Once you click on the link found above, you have two choices.  One button is Civil, Family Law, Small Claims and Probate.  The other button is Traffic/Criminal.   For example, if you have an unlawful detainer, click the  Civil, Family Law, Small Claims and Probate button on the right.

The link given is for “San Bernardino Main”   There is no need to go to any other court, because it has county-wide cases.

When you click the Civil button, you are faced with new choices.  You can search by case number.  You can find a case number on the pleadings in your case.  However, it is easier to search by name.   Almost all the searches I do on the site are by name.  Sometimes a name is common or misspelled, so you might try the other party.  To search by name, press the “NAME SEARCH” button.  Make sure to put the Last name first, and then the first name.  If it is a common name, use the middle initial box.

If the party is a corporation or a city, town, or county, or some other organization, use the “Business” box.  You can limit the search by date, which can be helpful if you are searching for cases against the County of San Bernardino, because they are involved in a lot of litigation.   You can also check up on a city by searching for cases listed on the Closed Session portion of a Brown Act agenda.

Using the County of San Bernardino as an example, you are now faced with a page called “Name Search Results”  It lists Party Name, Type, Case Name, Category, Case Name and Filed in a spreadsheet-like format.  If you click on any of those headers, you can rearrange the data.  For example, if you click on “Filed” it will put them in chronological order, and then reverse chronological order.  This is helpful when you represent an entity that is involved in a lot of litigation.  For example, when I was Assistant City Attorney, I would search “City of Redlands” to see what cases were filed, but not served against the City.  It allowed me to manage my case load by knowing what cases came next.

You can click on the case number to see the case.  This will give you a docket so that you can see what has happened in the case.  For a more detailed view, you can click on the underlined “minutes.”  To see all the minutes, and the actions and parties, click on the link titled Case Report in the upper middle part of the screen.  Here you can find the attorneys, if any, on the case, when parties were dismissed, what happened at hearings, and what future motions, hearings and trial dates are scheduled.  There is an Images button, but to my knowledge, only some probate images are available.

If your unlawful detainer is under 60 days old, you have to give additional information to find out the information.  The Court’s website mistakenly says that “Unlawful Detainer cases are confidential for sixty (60) days and cannot be viewed. However, Court Rule (1161.2(a)) provides for access to such cases by interested parties . . .”   The mistake is that the prohibition is found in Code of Civil Procedure section 1161.2, not the local rules or the California Rules of Court.  Even when I’ve had the correct information, it has never allowed me to find unlawful detainers less than sixty days old.

The criminal/traffic button is similar.   You can search by the defendant’s name.  Instead of clicking on the case number, you click on the first count charged.  You can sort by filing date, name, case number and month/year of birth.  The Case Report link works similarly, except it allows you the option of what information to include.  The Case Report gives you fairly detailed information about the criminal defendant.  These links are helpful when you read a newspaper article about a case, because you can find more information than is reported in the newspaper.

Riverside Superior Court uses the same system  “Open Access” as the San Bernardino Superior Court, or rather, San Bernardino uses the same as Riverside.  Riverside was first.  Riverside was also the first with images.  However, Riverside Superior Court charges for name searches.  However, you can search by case number for free, and do calendar searches for free.  If you know when a case went to court, you can get the case number from the calendar search, and then plug it into the case number search.

Riverside’s images used to be free.  This glorious era came to an end, and they are viewable online for a fee.  In the old days, you could get sample pleadings just by searching for a similar party.

A later post will focus on how to search and view cases in the Central District of California, the Federal Court District for Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

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.

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law