Being harassed by the city

by Kayla
(Corona, CA, U.S.)

Visitor Question: My dad's property is in violation. It has been more than two years since we got the first letter.

Today, we got the second administrative citation. We tried to fight the first one, but the city's forms and letters didn't give us the right information on where to file an appeal, and we weren't let into the Zoom hearing. They called us a no show.

Going back to the first letter, it stated that our RV needs to be garaged, behind a six-foot high fence, or abated. We had posts up already for a property line fence, so we chose to put it behind a solid six-foot fence. We had lattice up before, so we switched the lattice out for solid fence panels so the RV violation would be taken care of.

When the inspector came out he mentioned we should go get a permit so we can complete the fence (which doesn't wrap around the whole property now). And every time we went, we were denied. We made an appointment with the senior planner, and she didn't help us either.

Since the first letter, within the last two years, we have also been sent violations for multiple things, such as trash bins, vegetation, parking of cars, storage racks, etc.

Now we received the second administrative citation for building without a permit. IT STATES; To correct the action; go into the planning department and get a permit or abate it. But every time we've gone down to their office, they deny our permit. We don't know what to do.

My dad is 70 years old, and he owns this property. He's owned it for 25 years and has been living in it for 15 years. We live downtown, which is home to drug users, gang members, and not nice people. He chose to put the fence up for safety reasons and figured it would "kill two birds with one stone."

Anyway, we have tried to comply, but simply the city won't let us. What can we do?

Editors Reply: Kayla, considering everything you have written, we advise that you figure out a friend, or a friend of a friend, who has more experience in dealing with city hall, and if possible, specifically the planning department and the code officers. While it is certainly possible that you are being harassed, as your title expresses, in the vast majority of cases the property owner simply does not understand what is required.

If that is what is happening to you, someone who is more accustomed to understanding building regulations can help you get to the bottom of which part of a city requirement your fence does not comply with. In nearly every instance, a city employee is willing to answer questions about why a permit is denied or why a proposed solution to a code violation will not meet the requirement.

Again, we aren't saying that a city is always in the right, and truly some city employees have terrible attitudes. But it is true that most employees will explain something once. They may not have a strong enough customer service ethic to explain and re-explain, which is why we suggest taking someone with you that knows how these things work. Maybe it would be a builder, a fencing contractor, or a real estate agent. If a companion can quickly get to the bottom of the problem for you, you won't frustrate the city employee as much and they are likely to be more helpful.

One thing we can say with certainty is that once a particular code inspector decides you are determined to be non-compliant, the complaints will multiply as that inspector "throws the book at you." So break that cycle.

The new solid-panel fence, once permitted and built, will help you avoid some of these other possible citations as well, such as outdoor storage problems or tall vegetation. Concentrate on the fence till you figure that one out, and get your permit.

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