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Effectively Dealing With Code Compliance Issues
F. Paul Sheehan, Architect
Vice President and CFO of Dyer Sheehan Group, Inc.

Several times a year, I receive a call from a property owner who has been cited for a zoning or building code violation.  Typically, the owner has been “threatened” with legal action if there is no response to the complaint, and subsequently remedies the violation within a limited timeframe.  Sometimes, the violation has existed for years and perhaps the owner bought the property unaware of the issue; or if a problem was suspected, chose to ignore it. At other times, the owner has created the violation by constructing improvements or modifications without a permit, either because they were not legally permissible or did not want to go through the effort and expense.  

Typical Code Violations
There are a variety of code violations that regularly occur and a detailed discussion of these is well beyond the scope of this article.  However, some of the more typical problems involve illegal dwelling units, garages converted into living space, overcrowded units, un-permitted modifications to existing structures and even excessive junk piling up in a yard.  Compliance issues may also result from conducting non-permitted uses on a property or violating public safety regulations such as blocking an exit or obstructing a required parking space.  

What to Do, and What Not to Do
Once a problem is identified or suspected by an enforcement agency, it will not go away on its own and should not be ignored.  There is no need to panic, and although there may not be a quick fix, most of these situations are resolvable.  One of the biggest mistakes one can make is to blame the enforcement agency for the problem.  It is generally not their fault,and most often the enforcement official is just doing his or her job.  In many cases, officials do not want to deal with minor problems but are legally required to investigate once a formal complaint is filed, or a violation is identified.

Code compliance officials welcome a professional and friendly approach and are generally interested in determining reasonable and amicable solutions.  In many instances, they can offer the key to resolving a problem.  However, they cannot do you a favor and ignore the violation, especially if the violation creates a threat to life or public safety, so do not insult them by requesting to waive it.  Most importantly, if you are faced with a citation you should strive to work cooperatively with the agency from the beginning, both to fully understand the problem and to identify a mutually acceptable solution.  

Avoiding Problems
The best way to avoid code compliance problems is to be diligent in all property decisions and activities. Never complete the purchase of a property without researching its current and historical code compliance. This can be relatively easy and most of the time simply involves a visit to the local planning and building departments to examine property records.  

Once you own a property, do not begin any construction or modification work without obtaining the proper permits. Despite what you might think or have been told, even simple things like re-roofing or  replacing windows or siding generally requires a permit.  It is easy to find out if a permit is needed by contacting the local building department and making an inquiry.

All information provided herein is from sources deemed to be reliable, but no guarantee or warranty is stated or implied.

Copyright 2014 Dyer Sheehan Group, Inc.
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