Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
In the majority of cases, the practice of Code Enforcement is beneficial to public health and safety.
Code Enforcement and the officers that reinforce it aim to detect, investigate, and prevent risks to the safety and welfare of the public in the form of land use, building standards, business activities, and public works.
However, there are situations in which Code Enforcement can turn into harassment. It can be difficult to know what to do under these circumstances, especially if you’re not familiar with the law in your area.
Luckily, if the actions of your local Code Enforcement Officers constitute harassment, you can take steps to fight this harassment and restore peace in your daily life.
In this article, we will be explaining what Code Enforcement is, when it crosses the line into harassment, and what you can do to make the harassment stop.
What Is Code Enforcement?
Code Enforcement is a health and safety practice within communities that helps to minimize risk to public safety.
Under Code Enforcement, an officer called a Code Enforcement Officer is given the responsibility of identifying and rectifying legal violations concerning the property value, cleanliness, and safety of buildings and structures in the community and environment.
A Code Enforcement Officer has the power to issue warnings and notices to relevant parties concerning any of the above.
For example, if an individual has made renovations to their property that cause an obstruction or hazard to the rest of the community, a Code Enforcement Officer would be tasked with informing that individual of the problem and instructing them to make necessary changes.
These officers can also file court actions in the case of non-compliance because they are granted police powers in this capacity.
This is all primarily done for the good of the public, but there are times when Code Enforcement can be taken too far. In these cases, the actions of a Code Enforcement Officer may constitute harassment.
When Does Code Enforcement Become Harassment?
There are certain actions that Code Enforcement Officers are not permitted to take or that are deemed excessive. If you can prove these actions in court, you may have a case for harassment.
Entering Your Property
It’s important to note that what Code Enforcement Officers are permitted to do will vary depending on where you live, which is why it’s so important to familiarize yourself with the law in your area (see below).
In some municipalities, Code Enforcement Officers are permitted to enter private premises at reasonable times during the day to carry out inspections that are relevant to the perceived code violation at hand.
Note that most municipalities where this is permitted specify that an officer may not request entry at unreasonable hours or enter a property unannounced.
The officer must announce and identify themselves when requesting permission to enter. If this permission is denied, further action may be taken.
In other municipalities, Code Enforcement Officers are not permitted to enter an occupied property, even to conduct inspections.
Based on this information, you could have a case for Code Enforcement Harassment if a Code Enforcement Officer:
- Enters your property without announcing and identifying themselves in an area where entry for inspection purposes is permitted
- Requests entry to your property at unreasonable times
- Requests to enter, or enters your property in a municipality where this is not allowed
Excessive Code Enforcement
Even if a Code Enforcement Officer doesn’t enter your property, you may be able to sue for harassment if you can prove that the Code Enforcement practices being used are excessive and/or unnecessary.
A low-level example of this would be your local Code Enforcement Officer sending you repeated notices about the length of the grass on your lawn despite your lawn being well-maintained and not surpassing the length of other houses in the neighborhood.
More serious cases of excessive Code Enforcement might include things such as being repeatedly threatened with court proceedings due to a perceived safety risk relating to your roof, when you know (and can prove) that your roof presents no danger or nuisance to the public.
How To Fight Code Enforcement Harassment
If a Code Enforcement Officer has breached the law in your municipality by entering or requesting to enter your home when it is not appropriate, or you are being repeatedly contacted about non-violations, you can take steps to prevent future harassment.
Step 1: Know The Law
First of all, you need to know the laws and regulations in your specific municipality.
In some neighborhoods, it’s perfectly acceptable for Code Enforcement Officers to request access to a property for inspection during reasonable hours.
In others, it is only legal if the request is made during appropriate hours and if the officer identifies themselves first.
Knowing the law where you live will help you to decide whether what you are experiencing is harassment or not.
Step 2: Contact Your Code Enforcement Office
Your first port of call should be your local Code Enforcement Office, outlining the situation and why you believe this constitutes harassment.
You can contact your Code Enforcement Office by phone, email, or regular mail.
If you have documented proof of the harassment or the lack of violations, you may wish to include this.
However, you might need to schedule another inspection with a third party at the Code Enforcement Office (during a time when you are home) to prove that there is no need for further contact regarding the issue.
Step 3: Consult An Attorney
If contacting the Code Enforcement Office does not make the harassment stop, you should consult an attorney.
An attorney who has experience in Code Enforcement disputes will be able to help you determine whether you have a strong case for harassment and present your side of the story in court.
Make sure to contact an attorney as soon as you can because you normally have 10 to 60 days to request a hearing depending on where you live.
Step 4: Go To Court
Finally, you will need to present your case in a court setting so that a judge can decide whether you have experienced Code Enforcement harassment according to the law.
To prove that you have been harassed, you will need to provide documented proof. This can include communications, photographs of the suspected violation, or notes from the inspection.
If it is determined that you have been harassed under the guise of Code Enforcement, you may be entitled to monetary compensation and the officer in question will likely face disciplinary measures.
Code Enforcement can turn into harassment when Code Enforcement Officers do not follow protocol when entering or requesting entry to properties.
It is also harassment if a Code Enforcement Officer contacts you repeatedly over a ‘violation’ that does not exist.
If you believe that you are being harassed by Code Enforcement, you can fight the harassment by learning the law for your municipality, scheduling an inspection with a third party at the Code Enforcement Office, and taking the issue to court if steps 1 and 2 are unsuccessful.