Can code enforcement officers take furniture from backyard

by Charlie Watts
(Warren MI)

Reviewed: June 12, 2024

Visitor Question: Okay so I came home to find multiple things missing from my backyard such as our kids' basketball hoop and pole with a fiberglass backboard, not plastic. He took three out of four chairs from a dining set of table and chairs and left one. I have two wheelbarrows; he took the good one, the one that was not broken, and left me the broken one. He took rolled up fencing that I was going to use to improve my yard landscaping. He moved our trampoline for whatever reason. He moved the volleyball net from the backyard and moved it into our sunroom and put it directly in the middle of the floor. He took a sand filter that goes to our pool. There are other miscellaneous items as well.

We were not home at the time. He left no notice or any paperwork that he was there or took anything.

I went to the records department and looked it up to see if they had any type of administrative warrant or any documentation in regard to coming out to my home and removing any belongings of mine from my backyard. (I live on a cul-de-sac at the very end of the street. You cannot see anything from the street or behind me at all.) Lo and behold, they did not have any documentation whatsoever either that he was there. I know he was there because he admitted it.

Now what do I do? I feel violated and harassed and I would really like some help on this please. Can I press criminal charges? I've called multiple police departments in the area. I have also called other code enforcement supervisors in the area. Nobody has ever heard of such a thing. Please help me. Thank you. Do you know of any good attorneys?

Editors Respond: We are not attorneys and our worldwide perspective means that we don't know the attorneys in your state.

As planners and current or former code officials, we can say we have not heard of this behavior either. We also cannot imagine that it is legal. In a few places, a city is allowed to "abate" a code violation after several attempts to gain compliance, but even in the strictest of cities, this would never happen without several types of notices, hearings, and/or municipal court dates. And certainly, any abatement process from a city would not leave some items while taking others, or do something like moving an item from your yard into your home.

This is a completely ridiculous situation and one that is way out of the norm of code enforcement in the U.S. If you are reading this in some other city, there is really no need to freak out that this will happen to you; we have not heard of this before. It seems to us that this person likely is using code enforcement as a pretense for theft.

Please contact your local police and them if you can file a police report. Ask them to investigate this as a normal case of theft. This certainly gives the code enforcement officer some rights as an accused, but also preserves your rights as a property owner. At the same time please inform your city councilperson and mayor of what has happened, keeping your comments as factual as possible. They deserve to know that someone acting in the name of the city is behaving like this. It seems to us completely inappropriate and possibly, as you seem to say, criminal.

Further, ask your city to either return your property or pay for it. Cities commonly will pay for items they damage. You should not need an attorney unless all levels of your city government choose to ignore this behavior. If you are running into a brick wall with everyone in the city government, make sure you have contacted the city attorney, who should be quite concerned about this.

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