These efforts are generally referred to as “code enforcement”. Many citizens are unfamiliar with the code enforcement process, and yet it is an essential and on-going City function - one that the City Commission, several years ago, directed staff to intensify.
The Code Enforcement ProcessThe City Commission has adopted a number of laws (also called ordinances) regulating the safety of buildings and the appearance of property. These laws are enforced by the City’s two code enforcement officers. The code enforcement officers are not police officers, but they do work out of the police department. They investigate and seek the property owner’s assistance to correct the following types of violations:
- Substandard structures such as buildings that are dilapidated and appear to be abandoned
- High grass and weeds
- Trash and debris
- Junk vehicles, and commercial vehicles parked in an area zoned residential
- Zoning issues including illegal uses, such as a business operating without a permit within a residential neighborhood
- Illegal signs and fences
- Vending license violations
- Occupational license violations
- Illegal demolitions
- Noise complaints
- Animal complaints
As noted in this space last week, the Code Enforcement Board is one of 16 active boards that carry out city business. It is made up of seven members, appointed by the City Commission, with meetings scheduled the second Monday of every month at 5:00 pm in the City Commission chambers. During that meeting the Board members hear testimony and review evidence offered by both the code enforcement officers and the property owner. After reviewing all aspects of the case the Board members may find that the property either has, or does not have, a violation. Based on the circumstances of the case, the Board may offer the owner additional time to make the required corrections. The Board is also empowered to impose fines of up to $250 for each day of continued violation. Such is the case with the Grand Hotel.
The fine becomes a “lien” on the property - meaning that the City now has a claim against the title of the property. This claim has two very important features:
- A lien against the property is likely to affect the title to the property and make it harder to sell. If the owner wishes to sell the property, the lien amount must be paid to the City. (Once the property is brought into compliance and the violation is removed, the owner may petition the Code Enforcement Board to reduce the lien.)
- If the fine builds up to a large amount the City may wish to “foreclose” on the property. This means that the City could bring a lawsuit against the owner and obtain ownership of the property without payment to the owner. This is what the City is pursuing in the Grand Hotel case.
Next week this column will explore code enforcement activity in the past few years, the professionals who carry out this important work, and the role of citizens in the process. Note: William Gindlesperger, Chief Code Enforcement Officer, and Albert C. Galloway, City Attorney, contributed to this article.