Abusive Code Enforcement

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have begun to notice a pattern in complaints about code enforcement agencies lately.

One is that certain cities (especially large charter cities) regarding what they want out of code enforcement. They used to want to use code enforcement tools to eliminate blight and come into compliance.  Now, it seems that many cities want to generate revenue from code enforcement instead of compliance.

The second pattern is that code enforcement is abusing their discretion.  In order to make money, little infractions become major code enforcement violations.  Dormant trees in the winter become unmaintained landscaping. A burnt patch of summer grass becomes lack of landscaping.

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

 

Dealing With Code Enforcement Agencies in San Bernardino County and Riverside County

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

What should you do if you are faced with a code enforcement notice, an administrative citation or a criminal citation?

A lot of the response depends on the conditions of the property and the city or county involved.  I worked in two very different code enforcement environments.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney in the City of San Bernardino, almost fifty percent of my time was spent on code enforcement, (the rest was municipal law and civil litigation)  as was at least fifty percent of the time of another Deputy.  Additionally,  another Deputy had primary responsibility for Animal Control, and land use was generally separate, though for a period of time I reviewed every inspection notice involving mobile home inspections.  Code Enforcement is a priority for the City of San Bernardino.  Later, when I was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, code enforcement had been shuffled between three departments.

The official mantra of code enforcement is that cities and counties are looking for compliance, not fines.  Your results may vary in the wild.

What to do if you have a code enforcement notice (such as a “10 day Notice”)?

Do not ignore the notice, it will not go away.  Always try to comply with the notice, if possible.  A notice is much better than a citation.  Open a dialogue with the code enforcement officer.  Typically, the notice has a phone number.  If it doesn’t search for the main code enforcement number on Google, and then ask for the noticing officer.  If you complete the work within the time frame established on the notice, ask for a reinspection.  If you need more time, most reasonable code enforcement officers will give you more time if you are making progress.  They do not have to, but they typically will.

However, do not give the officer free reign to inspect your entire property.  You have a right to refuse a code enforcement officer’s request to enter your property.   Typically, they should be able to view the conditions on your property from the public right-of-way, or from adjoining property (if they have permission from the property owner).   If the code enforcement agency has an administrative warrant, you need to comply.

What should you do if you have an administrative citation?

Read the citation.  It should tell you how to contest the citation.  It may tell you that you need to correct a violation.  Generally, you should correct the violation before you meet with the hearing officer.  In the City of Riverside, you must pay to contest.  Additionally, the City of Riverside as of the writing of this post contracts out their code enforcement processing to an Orange County firm.  In the City of San Bernardino,  you can pay or contest.  San Bernardino Municipal Code section 9.92.070(A) and (B).  Either way, it probably makes sense to contest the citation.   You have an opportunity to ask the hearing officer for a reduction, particularly if you have corrected the situation.

What should you do if you have a criminal citation?

If you have an infraction or misdemeanor citation, you need to attend court at the arraignment.  You can plead guilty to the judge at the arraignment or if the agency sends an attorney, you can enter into a plea bargain agreement.  Or you can plead not guilty, and either a trial or a pretrial can be set.  Some cities will give you time to allow compliance, and then either dismiss the case, or have you plead guilty and pay a lesser fine at the end, or enter into a civil compromise.  You also have the option to contest the charges by having a trial set.  If it is an infraction, you do not have a right to a public defender or a jury trial.  If it is a misdemeanor, you do have the right to a public defender if you are sufficiently indigent, and a jury trial.

When should you hire a code enforcement attorney?  When the stakes are sufficiently high, or if you are being pushed around by a city or county.  For example, if you face multiple misdemeanors, you may face jail time.  If you are facing thousands of dollars in fines, or if the city or county is prosecuting you for the wrong reasons, hire an attorney skilled in code enforcement matters.

Copyright 2011-2 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