June 21, 2011 Leave a comment
City Council Revisit $10,000 Code Enforcement Case
Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said city staff need to back off and give property owners more time in a particular code compliance case.
With almost $10,000 in citations and a lien on the property, City Council discussed what to do next for a home on Hickory Court struggling to meet IB code enforcement commands at last week’s meeting.
In siding with property owner Donna Musick, Councilwoman Lorie Bragg instructed city staff to follow “the spirit of the law verses the letter of the law” at last week’s City Council meeting.
Councilman Brian Bilbray said Bragg was “absolutely right” and supported giving Musick more time.
“At this time, during a recession, you can’t really go after somebody as hard as we are going after them. I feel it is wrong,” he said. “I drove by today and there has been definitely a good amount of strides made to clean up the property.”
Council unanimously approved a resolution which provides Musick and co-owner Miguel Del Rosal a further abeyance of $1,350 in civil penalties.
A deadline has been set for August 15 to fix all code violations, or city staff or contractors will do it themselves. The topic will be revisited by City Council in October.
Greg Wade, the city’s Community Development director, said this case dates back to March 17, 2010, after staff received two separate citizen complaints of property conditions. Citations were then given in May, June, July and November 2010. Late payments carry penalty and interest charges, and make up nearly half of the $9,900 fine.
He said staff advised the property owners of three violations: visual blight, inoperable vehicles on the property and property maintenance.
Following a Council meeting last month, Musick said she was told by code enforcement officer David Garcias to keep him informed of any progress, have three licensed contractors do estimates for what it will cost to fix the roof, provide a timeline on how long it will take to come up with the money and allow him to inspect the property in the near future.
“I do not believe that I have to do all of the stuff that Mr. Garcias was strong-arming me to do,” she said. “It’s a little bit more than I can do right now. I need time. I need to know whether he is within his rights to require a licensed contractor. But, meanwhile, I would just like a little breathing space.”
In her appearance before the Council last Wednesday Musick provided new pictures of her home and other houses within a block of her own with abandoned vehicles, debris and storage along the side of the home.
“My house is not the worst out there,” she said.
“I don’t know why I am being set out from everybody else,” Musick said, who is currently unemployed. “I don’t feel that I am being treated as fairly as I should be.
If I don’t have the money and I got one contractor to loosely say it would cost about $8,000 to replace the roof, how am going to be able to pay the $10,000 in fees.”
“In this case, coming before Council is what we call egregious cases,” Wade said.
“The property maintenance conditions are substandard, constitute public nuisances and we bring it to the Council for assessment and civil penalties.”
Musick said she did not understand why she could not fix the roof herself with proper permits rather than get three estimates from three licensed contractors.
“I need to have the roof fixed. I was told that my tent trailer and the Corvair needed to be removed and I needed to let him know the progress in getting those removed from the property. And since then, Mr. Garcias has come on to the property at least three times taking pictures.”
Wade said citations went ignored, and according to municipal code, staff had no other option then to seek compliance with direction from City Council.
Bragg said this is a tough case, but in her opinion, not egregious. She said Musick came to last month’s Council meeting and there were personal issues the city was previously unaware of.
“To her own admission, she is going through a divorce,” Bragg said. “Her property is going up for sale. She is going to have to come up to code at that time. She is unemployed.”
Bragg said there comes a time when you can operate in the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law and in her observation she perceived that Musick was dealing with all of this own her own.
Musick nodded in agreement.
“I think she needs more time. I think we need to back off on this,” she said. “And I think we need to have a little sympathy. I would like to extend the time, keep the fines in abeyance and give her possibly until September.”
Property owners have removed most of the trash and debris, Wade said, but roof and property maintenance conditions are substandard and do not comply with code.
“You can’t see the tarp from the sidewalk and I have cleaned up the items,” Musick said. “I got rid of the van. I am doing a title search on the trailer now so I will get rid of it as soon as possible.”
Wade said the suggestion for her to get three bids was in her response of inability to pay for the improvements so she could get the best price. He also said getting three estimates was a suggestion, not a requirement.
He said permits are available for homeowners to do it themselves, but that roof repair can be dangerous for homeowners and professionals alike. Wade said staff could only speculate what is required in repairing the roof, as the city has not been able to do an official inspection.
“I would also like to respond to the fact that at no point in time has Mr. Garcias gone on the property in this case,” Wade said. “Pictures were taken from the right of way. Pictures from adjacent properties had expressed permission and authorization from those property owners.”
Wade said there was no contact with Musick until staff encountered them at the property.
“Once we encountered them, we gave them additional time to comply,” he said.
“We then never heard from them again. There may be cases like this on or around the block but we have not had citizen complaints on them.”
Wade said allowing the property owners may give the appearance of uneven enforcement, but that it’s up to the Council to prioritize citizen complaints.
“We are bound to follow up on them, enforce the code and are directed by City Council to do so. That is why we are doing it in this case,” he said.
Mayor Janney said he had seen little progress and supported the resolution until Wade said the resolution included city staff taking over repairs after August 15 if violations still exist. Janney said he was not sure on June 15 to make that decision and say “go” on August 15 is the right thing to do. He said everything other than that in the resolution was appropriate.
“But to give that kind of authorization at this moment, I am not sure I can support that part of it,” he said. “I think we should strike that from the resolution. That is more invasive on the properties and in my eight years on the council we have not done that very often. It should not be taken very lightly. There is a lot of cost and there could be legal ramifications. I would like to see this case again before we authorize that.”
Councilmember Ed Spriggs said that even in a sympathetic case like this, if you pull that provision there is no incentive to accomplish it in the next two months.
“We are leaving it wide open essentially for no effort or no action. I think that is my concern–there is no penalty or risk to inaction.”
King said he supported Bragg and it is unfortunate when these cases drag out for a year or more.
“We spend a lot of staff time and money on this,” he said. “I appreciate the efforts on the part of the owner. I think she has shown good faith moving forward.”