In Pennsylvania, and in most other states throughout the nation, a municipality may be set up as a township, borough, city, or some other type of local government. The municipalities all have their own set of laws (generally called ordinances) which comprise a municipality’s “Code.” The Codes detail everything about a township, borough, or city; from local election procedures to parks and recreation to zoning compliance, the Codes will tell you everything you need to know about the governing affairs of a municipality.
The main focus of any code, however, is generally property. Specifically, the municipality desires to ensure that both private and commercial property owners within the municipality are in compliance with property maintenance codes. A property maintenance code may be drafted and enforced by the municipality itself or, in many cases, it adopts and enforces the International Property Maintenance Code. Every municipality with a property maintenance code has Code Enforcement Officers to enforce the requirements of its respective codes, who are also the people who will send you those daunting notices of violation. At Gross McGinley, we have seen it time and time again: a property owner receives a notice that their property is in violation of the local property maintenance code and they have no idea what to do. The solution is simple. Call a code enforcement lawyer.
No matter where you are in the process of fighting a notice of violation, a lawyer can help you through it. Typically, a municipality will either give you a warning of a potential violation or it will go ahead and enforce its Code and hand you a notice of violation with fines right away. The municipality will give you a date as to when the property needs to be corrected, and if it is not, the municipality can continue to fine you. Depending on the number of violations, these fines can add up. Therefore, once you receive that notice of violation, consult with an attorney on the best course of action.
In many cases, the warnings or violations can be resolved by having your lawyer work with the municipality’s code enforcement officers to reach a solution. At the end of the day, both parties want an amicable, inexpensive solution. A lawyer is your best choice to represent your best interest, negotiate on your behalf, and build a plan with you and the code enforcement officer to get the work fixed in a timely and reasonable manner for all sides. Therefore, even when your property is actually in violation of the code, a lawyer can assist in providing property owners with a simple, inexpensive experience with the municipality that never even ends up in the courtroom.
A lawyer can also help property owners fight notices of violations against their property. If you and your lawyer determine that the violations and fines are frivolous and unwarranted, there is a process to fight them. Generally, code enforcement violations can be fought in your local magisterial district court. The local district court process is straightforward, economical, and very fact-based. Your lawyer can advocate your position against the municipality and leave it to the judge to make the determination as to whether the property is in violation!
Even after a magistrate judge makes a disposition, you still have several options. First, you can appeal that decision and fight the matter in the county’s court of common pleas. Second, you can go in front of the local zoning hearing board and ask for permission to do something not typically permitted. Lastly, you can negotiate with the code enforcement officer for additional time to correct the violations and have some pressure taken off of you. Regardless of which route you go, consulting with a lawyer is the best way to ensure you select the right option and it’s done right!
As you can see, code enforcement violations are not as frightening as they may seem! However, every property owner’s situation is unique and requires different courses of action. The best way to make sure your violation is handled promptly and accurately is to consult with an experienced code enforcement attorney.
Michael Horvath serves on the firms Business Services Team helping business owners navigate local municipal and real estate laws.
The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.