Code Enforcement Gone Wild

I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino and the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands. Along with another Deputy, I advised what was then the Code Enforcement Department in San Bernardino.  The City of Redlands had different code enforcement issues than the City of San Bernardino, but code enforcement was an important part of my job in Redlands.

We were not on the leading edge in San Bernardino (everything we did was pioneered at larger cities), but we tried to employ as many code enforcement tools as possible. We were never successfully sued in a code enforcement case while I was there.

However, now that I represent citizens, I see all kind of ticky-tack things that other entities do.  Here is an article from the Salt Lake Tribune

“Ogden tells dad to take down his kids’ cardboard castle because it’s ‘junk'”

Now, this is in Utah, but most cities and counties in California have a similar ordinance that prohibits junk, trash, and debris in your front yard.  However, just because it’s technically illegal doesn’t mean that the City should cite for it.

Looking at the link from the story, this is the City of Ogden ordinance:


A. Prohibition: It is unlawful for any owner, occupant, agent or lessee of real property within the city, to allow, cause or permit the following material or objects to be in or upon any yard, garden, lawn, or outdoor premises of such property:

1. Junk or salvage material;

2. Litter;

3. Any abandoned vehicle or inoperable vehicle.

In California, our ordinances tend not to be as vague as this code section.

Does a cardboard castle even qualify as “junk” or “litter?” If it were in California and I were reviewing a notice (which I believe I did sometimes in Redlands) or a citation (in San Bernardino), I would probably turn it down.

As I teach code enforcement officers in training, just because something can be cited doesn’t mean it should be.

I think the reaction by the resident was the right course of action.

“Had he not received the letter, he was planning on taking the castle down soon anyway. But after receiving it, he now plans to keep it up until just before the penalty.”

Michael Reiter is a partner with Cole Huber LLP
2855 E. Guasti Road, Suite 402
Ontario, CA 91761