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.

 

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