Politicians and Code Violations

January 17th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s always disturbing when a code enforcement action is answered with a threatened or actual lawsuit on the part of the alleged offender.  Instead of focusing on the violation, everyone’s attention is taken up with the new lawsuit.  If a local governmental agency is in a tough economic position, it may decide to drop the enforcement action instead of incurring legal fees to defend itself against what is usually a frivolous lawsuit.  This isn’t fair to the homeowner who responds by correcting a violation or the inspector who is just doing his or her job.  When politics is thrown into the mix, it can get even worse.  In Camano Island, Washington, a commissioner, who was notified of a violation for building a deck without a permit and a possible wetland violation, has filed a lawsuit against the local planning director and the candidate who ran against her in an election, alleging that the code enforcement action was political in nature.  Inspectors need to make sure that they keep good notes if they are placed in a situation where there is political pressure from their superiors.  If an inspector feels he or she is being asked to do something that isn’t right, he or she should try to get a response in writing (e.g. e-mail) from the person applying the pressure so that there is a paper trail.  That way, if there is a lawsuit filed in the matter, the inspector can show that he or she was doing an action at the direction of a supervisor.  Of course, if the action is illegal, the inspector should always insist that the order is vetted by the jurisdiction’s attorney before it is implemented.  If the inspector’s request for a legal review is turned down, he or she has to decide whether keeping one’s job is worth going to jail for.   It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the above case.  Such situations usually end up with a settlement of some type.

  1. March 2nd, 2011 at 16:25 | #1

    Our 25,000-population Kansas town of Emporia has a different kind of politicians/code enforcement problem. The city commission does not enforce the codes, even when neighborhood groups bring long-time offenders to its attention, write articles in the paper about the economic and social advantages of well-maintained housing stock, etc. At one point, the mayor stated in a public meeting that enforcing codes would be akin to becoming “a police state.” It is common knowledge that the offending landlords have always had friends on the commission, so the problem never goes away. Our neighborhood group would like to know about the feasibility of suing the city for non-enforcement. We’ve tried everything else. Thank you for any advice or direction you can provide.

  2. March 2nd, 2011 at 16:29 | #2

    Clarification: the commission does not compel the one part-time code officer to enforce the codes (that’s all we have, one part-time position); it is not a priority. When residents send in complaints, the majority are ignored. The issue is critical because approximately 49 percent of the housing in this city is rental housing.

  3. March 2nd, 2011 at 21:02 | #3

    @Antonia Felix
    When your public officials are as unresponsive as you describe, the only thing you can do to make sure the situation changes is to get political and find run for office so that the local government reflects the will of the citizens. Suing is not an option because most Tort Immunity laws protect local government from lawsuits for not enforcing the law.

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