Can Code Enforcement make me live in a home that is a health hazard?

Reviewed: June 12, 2024

Visitor Question: Hello. I live in an unincorporated city in Riverside County. I live on a property that is in probate. I took care of my landlord until the day he passed away due to complications of a disease that rats and mice have been known to give humans.

Code enforcement has now become a part of our life because of the huge mess of another tenant on the property. I myself have never spoken or dealt with code enforcement. I currently live in a 35 foot trailer outside of the main house. I choose not to live in the home due to the obvious hazards to my health.

My question is can code enforcement force me to live in that home or can I be given a waiver for living in my trailer due to the hazards to my health? I'm not the property owner, and again, the property is in probate.

Editors Reply: Each city can choose its own codes. Most of them adopt standard codes, but often with their own local amendments. So we cannot say for sure.

But in general, it seems extremely improbable to us that code enforcement would have any ability to make you move into somewhere you don't want to move.

Sometimes code violations are so severe, and codes so strict, that code enforcement can ultimately force someone to move out of a place, but we haven't even heard of code enforcement being able to force someone to move into a place.

We think you should probably focus on whether the county can force you to move out of the trailer where you are now staying. Health and sanitation codes can be quite powerful where rats and other disease carriers are concerned, so please focus on the situation around the place where you are staying.

This means that if you have any positive relationship with the other tenant at all, you need to start persuading that person to start cleaning up the mess. The basis of your argument could be look, unless this gets cleaned up and we get the rats and mice out of here, they are going to make both of us move out.

If you maintain a cordial relationship, maybe you can offer to help them get started with the cleaning. Sometimes people just become discouraged with the volume of work that is required, and they just need a little encouragement. Or it could be that this person has a psychological problem leading to hoarding, and that will be harder to deal with.

If you have the means to do so, you might want to look into hiring an exterminator for the main house or other areas that are not so impacted by the one tenant's bad habits.

The fact that the property is in probate certainly complicates things to some extent. In most places, it would simply mean that code enforcement would not be able to move as swiftly as might be the case otherwise. We have not researched California and are not attorneys in any case.

So our advice is to focus your attention on whether you might face having to leave, rather than on having to move into a house that you don't want to live in.

Make sure that your own residence and its immediate surroundings are as tidy as possible, make yourself an emergency plan if you are going to be forced out, but don't worry about something unlikely to happen.

Meanwhile, don't be afraid to contact the code enforcement officer yourself. Explain immediately that you are not the property owner, but ask about what might happen to you if the other tenant does not clean up the property. Right now you have almost nothing to lose by talking to the code enforcement office, and information will help you make good decisions.

Of course, if what you are implying but not saying is that you would not be allowed to live in the trailer if the county knew you were doing it, our advice is bad. In that case, your best bet is to start thinking about other housing options.

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