Griswold Law Blog

Community Approaches to Code Enforcement

Guest author Pete Roque of 4 Leaf Inc explains how different communities structureCode enforcement their code enforcement team into different divisions.

Code enforcement is a great way to ensure that your community is not overtaken (or ruined) by unsightly buildings, houses, activities, or businesses.

Some aspects of code enforcement are handled by local authorities, others are handled by the state, and still others are handled on the federal level. Each one has a different set of rules and regulations to follow. When you take a closer look, you’ll find that many communities take different approaches to addressing issues as they arise.

Across the United States, Code Enforcement divisions may be housed in different departments within any jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have a stand-alone division, whereas others assign code enforcement tasks to the community development department or neighborhood services.

Each municipality approaches code enforcement situations differently, depending on which department handles each type of violation.

How Fire & Police Departments Use Code Enforcement

Fire and police departments usually handle violations of code that affect the safety of the general public. For example, some issues that arise are problem houses that are known as “problem properties that may have criminal elements.”

Code enforcement may be used when these properties create unhealthy living conditions or have structural damage which can endanger their inhabitants. Fire Departments may also utilize code enforcement to complete housing inspections, which ensure that there are no immediate health and safety or fire concerns.

Police and fire departments are likely to use code enforcement as a resource to address long-term solutions to problem properties.

The Role of Building Code Departments

Separate from police and fire, building code departments handle code enforcement as well.

Building code departments usually handle violations that affect the safety of the public as it relates to the structural integrity of a property.

In many jurisdictions, code enforcement is housed in the building code division. That is because building code departments typically handle issues like illegal construction, substandard housing conditions, and abatement of dangerous buildings.

Building departments use code enforcement to address immediate safety concerns and ensure that substandard structures are either brought up to code or completely removed to eliminate potential hazards.

Planning Departments and Code Enforcement

Another division that may be responsible for code enforcement is a city’s Planning Department.

Planning departments ensure that all land use and zoning laws are adhered to. As communities change, so does the need to enforce new activities and uses. In many California communities, businesses like massage parlors, short-term rentals, and cannabis businesses are becoming a high priority for zoning laws. Zoning regulations can help reduce neighborhood complaints about businesses like these.

Additional Code Enforcement Options

Another place for housing code enforcement is the city administrator or city attorney’s office.

If a community takes a conservative approach to enforcement, they will often place code enforcement workers under the jurisdiction of senior management. This ensures swift enforcement of high-priority violations.

If code enforcement is housed in the Public Works Department, Code Enforcement offers may deal with illicit discharges, encroachments, city damage, FOG (fats, oil, and grease), inspections, graffiti, or other public property nuisances.

Finally, code enforcement tasks may be overseen by the business license department. This helps jurisdictions to ensure that all businesses are following licensing regulations. They will also oversee occupancy and tenant improvement complaints.

The Secret Formula?

Wherever code enforcement is located in your community, you can rest assured that there is no “secret formula.”

Code enforcement must deal with a variety of issues throughout any agency. Some things are an instant and easy fix, but others are complex and require due process.

It is important to train in these different disciplines, because one tool may be more effective in a situation than another. Regardless of which division serves in the supervisory role for this important work, knowing the “tools of the trade” will help code enforcement officers gain knowledge and familiarity with every aspect of code enforcement.

Continued practice and understanding of each enforcement technique is the key to a successful division, regardless of where it is housed.

About the Author

Pete Roque is an experienced Code Enforcement Professional with a demonstrated history of working in the government administration industry. He is skilled in Government, Emergency Management, Law Enforcement, Disaster Response, and Plan Review. He is a strong business development professional with a Bachelor of Science focused in Business Administration from California State University-Dominguez Hills.

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