When Should You Contact A Lawyer For A Code Enforcement Problem?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

Many California cities have departed from filing misdemeanor or infraction citations or complaints in their local Superior Court.  The reason why is that the Government Code provides a more efficient process with administrative citations.  For many situations, such as leaving your garbage cans out too long, it makes more sense to pay an administrative citation then to be arraigned on a criminal citation.   Further, with the ever-increasing amount of penalties piled upon criminal citations, it is also beneficial to the violator to only have to pay $100 for a ticket.  The city or town benefits because they get the entire fine, minus any processing fee from a third party administrator, versus getting roughly half of the base fine for the criminal citation.  In most cases, the alleged violator does not need an attorney.  Even when it is a criminal case, unless your time is exceedingly valuable or you will be out of the area at the time, it does not make sense to pay an attorney to appear on your behalf.

The number one way to get rid of a code enforcement problem is to come into compliance with the ordinance.  Sometimes that is not possible for financial, logistical, or other reasons.  However, an attorney is often the wrong tool to deal with financial problems, as the attorney’s fee will increase the cost to remedy the situation.  Sometimes an attorney can help with the process and explain the situation, and work with the agency to come up with a compliance plan.

However, with administrative civil penalties cases, where the city wants to charge the property owner up to a thousand dollars a day for a continuing violation, it may make sense to speak to an attorney sooner than later.  Once the citation becomes a lien against the property, depending on the implementing ordinance, it may be impossible for anyone — including a skilled attorney, to do anything about the situation.  Also, attorneys will not guarantee results, because with code enforcement,  the same City that cited the alleged violator that must be convinced to change their course.

Alleged code enforcement violators like to think that they are being singled out for selective enforcement, or some kind of discrimination is at hand.  Though that may be the case, having hundreds of junked cars on a property makes a selective enforcement case difficult to win.  Though code enforcement departments sometimes very technical interpretations of vague municipal codes that are problems, the majority of code enforcement cases are not based on animus towards the property owner.

For out-of town landlords and property holders, it sometimes helps to have an attorney who has dealt with a code enforcement department in the past.  Each code enforcement situation is different, and property owners and tenants should consult with an attorney about their particular situation.

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

How To Act In Front of A Code Enforcement Hearing Officer

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

Many cities in California have shifted away from hearing boards for administrative hearings and hired hearing officers to hear appeals of administrative citations, administrative actions, and administrative civil penalties.  Here are some general, common sense rules to follow when appearing before a hearing officer.

1. Be prepared.  Bring all the relevant information, including current photographs, and any witnesses on your behalf.  Draft an outline of remarks before the hearing.

2. Be respectful.  There’s no point in being bombastic.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I had the occasion to observe hundreds of hearings in front of a few different hearing officers.  One well-known unlawful detainer attorney argued his way into a higher fine for his client.

3. If you are challenging any aspect of the hearing, make a record.  Submit any objections to the process or hearing officer in writing.

4. As a corollary to be prepared, show up early, watch how the hearing is conducted, and obtain any rules  adopted by the hearing officer or City in advance.

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

How can code enforcement laws be changed in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

How can code enforcement laws be changed in San Bernardino County and Riverside County?   There are legal and political answers to this question.

Ordinances can be adopted, amended or repealed by City Councils or Town Councils.  The exact manner can depend on the composition of the Council and whether it is a general law or charter law municipality.  Similarly, an election might be held to amend or repeal a particular ordinance.  The processes also depend on whether the municipality is governed by general law or governed by a charter.  That is the simple legal answer.

The political answer is that either an elected official, or perhaps an appointed official like a city manager, has to propose a new or modify or repeal and existing ordinance by following the process in the Government Code or the City Charter, as applicable.  Similarly, if elected officials will not take action, individuals or groups can qualify an initiative or referendum to change code enforcement laws.  That is the simple political answer.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, someone in the north end of town received a citation for not taking his trash cans in promptly.  This was before the implementation of administrative citations.  He complained that he just wanted to pay the fine and not appear in court on a $100 citation.  I told him that I understood, but that it was a political issue, and that I did not have the authority, as a city lawyer, to change the ordinance.

The first step I would take if I wanted to change an existing code enforcement law would be to contact my city council member.  If I lived in a city with wards, I would contact that city council member.  If I lived in a city with at-large council members, I would call the council member I was most familiar.  If that didn’t work, I would call the Mayor.  If that did not work, I would then consider an initiative or referendum.

Should you hire a lawyer to have the municipal code changed?  Sometimes that is a cost-effective solution, or if not cost-effective, a way to change something you want changed.  However, no attorney will guarantee that you will get your money’s worth. Discuss it with an attorney skilled in dealing with municipalities.

There are two, more complex, legal and political ways that code enforcement laws can change in California.  Get the California Legislature to change state law preempting local law, or challenge an ordinance in court.  Most municipal ordinances are constitutions, but occassionlly,a court rules an ordinance is preempted by state law, outside the local agencies’ powers, or violates the United States or California constitution.

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

Where to find San Bernardino County and Riverside County Municipal Codes

Most cities, towns and counties in California codify their ordinances in municipal codes.  Codes are organized versions of ordinances passed by the legislative body of the local agency (such as City Council in incorporated cities, Boards of Supervisors in Counties).  They make it easier to find a particular law and make it easier to give a citation to a particular section.  Cities and Counties often organize their codes into Titles, Chapters and Sections. You will often find that the general scheme of municipal codes are similar.  For example, many local cities entitle Title 6 “Animals.”  Some ordinance are not codified at all, and some local agencies do not codify their ordinances.  Some agencies separately codify their zoning ordinances

Where do you find local San Bernardino County and Riverside County Municipal Codes for cities like San Bernardino, Riverside and Ontario as well as the County of San Bernardino and the County of Riverside?  The official copy is kept by each City Clerk or Clerk of the Board.  Copies of the official code can be found in local libraries, and law libraries.  Interested persons should rely on the original ordinance if possible, then the printed copy, and make sure the copy of the municipal code is current.

However, there are online versions available of local municipal codes.  When I was an Assistant City Attorney and a Deputy City Attorney, I sometimes found errors or omissions in online codes (and even in printed codes).  When in doubt, get a copy of the written code, or check the original, uncodified ordinance.

County of San Bernardino Code

County of Riverside Code

Here are the codes of the five largest cities in each county:

Riverside County

City of Riverside

City of Moreno Valley

City of Temecula

City of Corona

City of Murrieta

San Bernardino County

City of San Bernardino

City of Fontana

City of Ontario

City of Rancho Cucamonga

City of Victorville

 

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.

 

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