Feel harassed by code enforcement officer

by Jose
(West Valley City Utah )

Reviewed: June 12, 2024

Visitor Question: I was given a code violation for graffiti on my fence. Every year I have had to correct this. This year in around April I had to paint it again. And now I have to deal with the code enforcement officer saying that I hadn't complied since April, when I did comply. I even have a police report that I made a day after because vandals painted graffiti again. Can I sue the code enforcement officer for harassment?

Editors Respond: In theory you could sue anyone for anything, but this site doesn't give legal advice, so you would need to consult an attorney for an answer to your question.

But we can give some general advice based on our extensive city government and code enforcement experience. The first lesson for you, Jose, is to start documenting exactly what happened when. This means you should take photos with a phone or camera, making sure that your photo includes a record of the date. (If not, add the date to the file name.) So when there is graffiti, you take a new photo and when you paint over it, you take a photo. Also make a paper list of what happened when.

Interact with the code enforcement officer respectfully to get the best treatment. If you make threats or take an angry tone, the officer is only human and will be less inclined to give you a break and to listen respectfully to you. And you need to have the city and its representatives listen.

Learn about how to override the actions of any one individual code officer. In most cities there is a municipal court that hears any cases that the code enforcement officer may write up if they feel that you have not complied within a designated period of time. Do not be afraid to go to that court; the judge is usually much more impartial than the code enforcement officers themselves. Usually this judge does not work full time for the city, and most of them by now have figured out that the goal is to get compliance, not to punish people. So if you get a summons, by all means go to court and tell the judge in your own way about what has happened.

Now let's turn to a bigger question, which is how to discourage the graffiti in the first place so that you are not put in this position. If there is a neighborhood association in your community, by all means start participating actively in it.

Ask for help in preventing the graffiti. In many cities either the local government or some non-profit organization will clean up graffiti without your having to paint all the time. In these places, the graffiti is not treated as a code violation at all, since no doubt you did not deface your own property.

Graffiti is a community problem that must be solved by the community. This is what you should work toward, and with the help of a neighborhood association, you might be able to achieve that.

If there is no neighborhood association, you and some neighbors or friends may be able to start one. (For directions, see our page about how to start a neighborhood association).

Sometimes the neighborhood association does not do a good job of representing all residents. If this is the case in your area, just join the association and volunteer to help in some way. Usually you will be welcomed and accepted warmly if you show an interest in neighborhood-wide issues and problems. An effective association could really help you with this, since it has become an annual problem. Good luck to you.

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Code Enforcement Questions.

Join GOOD COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you monthly with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, and rural or small town environments. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.