When a local government utilizes on-site citations, city official’s may issue citations to a property owner “on-thespot” for external sanitation and nuisance violations without the need to go to court, functioning similar to a traffic ticket. On-site citations are only issued for external property violations, such as accumulation of garbage, high weeds or grass, open storage, graffiti, and drainage issues. Local officials have cited compliance, rather than punishment or revenue, as the primary goal of on-cite citation programs. For this reason, many communities give verbal or written warnings before issuing a citation.
Approved Home Rule Status. Currently, an on-site citation program is only available to communities who have requested the authority through a home rule program. For a list of communities who have requested this authority, see Appendix G.
Ordinance. The community must have ordinances related to exterior sanitation and nuisance violations. The City of Charleston’s ordinance is attached in Appendix E.
- Improved rates of compliance
- Faster compliance
- Fair when proper notice is provided
- Reduced cost for the community, primarily due to reduced time in court for public employees
- Must have an approved home rule program
- Concerns about abuse of discretion by enforcement officials (although the use of pictures and citing specific evidence in the notice of violation and citations reduces the likelihood of error)
- Confusion about the imposition of a fine without the right to trial first (although property owners have a right to appeal)
The goal of the program is to bring property owners into compliance, not issue fines.According to Dempsey,
Once a person sees that their neighbor is getting a citation, they know they have to take care of their own property or they’re next. In time, I think there will be a noticeable difference in what this community looks like. 1
Community Highlight: City of Charleston
In 2009, the City of Charleston began issuing on-site citations for sanitation, drainage, sidewalks in disrepair, high weed or grass, graffiti, exterior garbage accumulation, open storage in residential districts, and nonresident recreational vehicles.
Before issuing a citation, enforcement officials issue a warning called a Notice of Violation. If a person repeats the violation, a second warning is not required before a citation is issued. The program allows a landowner 5 days to address a violation after a citation is issued, although enforcement officials often allow additional time. Otherwise, the landowner is fined $100 for the first citation, $200 for the second citation, $300 for the third citation, and $500 for each additional citation. Fines are due within ten days of receipt of the citation.
Each Notice of Violation states, “If a citation is issued, failure to pay when due or failure to file an appeal with the Charleston Municipal Court within ten days of service of the citation shall constitute a failure to appear or otherwise respond and will result in notification to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which shall result in the suspension of your driver’s license. Additionally, if the City corrects the violation(s) as a result of your failure to do so, it may file a lien on your property for any costs incurred.”
Since the City of Charleston began using its citation program, the Planning and Building Departments have issued over 2,563 Notices of Violations. Over 87% of violations were corrected after a Notice of Violation was issued, avoiding the need for a citation.
In Charleston, on-site citations are used to enforce provisions of the City’s building code and zoning ordinance. For example, according to the City’s zoning ordinance, “parking of recreational vehicles in the front yard” by visitors is permitted for a maximum of 7 consecutive days. 2 Under the on-site citation program, a warning may be given on the 8th day a nonresident recreational vehicle remains parked in a front yard.
Many of Charleston’s on-site citations rely on the International Property Maintenance Code (IMPC) as well. For example, the City of Charleston has adopted Section 302.4 to require all premises and exterior property be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of 10 inches.
The City of Charleston implemented its on-site citation program to address a lengthy enforcement process that was proving cumbersome and ineffective and was resulting in a high rate of repeat offenders. Traditionally, the enforcement process for external sanitation issues would take a minimum of 13 weeks. For non-compliant owners, code enforcement officials were required to go through a lengthy complaint-based process that involved service of process, a court date, appointing a public defender if requested (because Building Code violations can carry a jail term), and a trial. During this time, neighbors could be left dealing with an uncorrected violation for 13 weeks or more. In addition, the City may have had to expend resources because, for example, the City’s public works department had to cut the grass several times. Worse, some owners would frustrate the process by temporarily remedying problems. For example, in derelict car cases, some offenders would move the problem vehicle until after the case was dismissed, then return it to the property knowing that the court process clock would start over again. In the case of trash accumulation, offenders would clean up a space long enough for the violation to be dismissed and then start accumulating trash again.
The on-site citation program provides an alternative that allows enforcement officers to timely deal with exterior sanitation and nuisance violations and discourage recidivism. 3
I am thrilled with the success we are having under home rule. The threat of a fine and revocation of a driver’s license has proven to motivate people to correct violations more often, and faster than the old process of going through municipal court.
Dan Vriendt, Commissioner, Charleston Planning Department
For communities that already have a code enforcement and legal department, the additional cost to implement an on-site citation program may be little, if any. These programs can actually save communities money and resources because they are expedited; avoid the court system in most cases; raise funds from fines; and, over the long run, increase tax revenue from improved property values. At the same time, these programs require a great deal of investment and expertise in requesting home rule authority, amending ordinances, and ensuring there is adequate notice and that procedures are followed. For communities without code enforcement departments, the cost of hiring a code official can be mitigated by sharing one with a neighboring community. For more information on sharing code officials, see Section on the Building Code.
Sec. 3-26 – Enforcement of external sanitation and common nuisance violations.
This section shall apply to the following exterior sanitation and common nuisance violations contained in the Building Code and Zoning Ordinance, incorporated by reference into Chapters 14 and 91, respectively, of the Municipal Code of the City of Charleston:
a. Sanitation (IPMC 302.1 or any corresponding section to the extent amended);
b. Drainage (IPMC 302.2 or any corresponding section to the extent amended);
c. Sidewalks in disrepair (IPMC 302.3 or any corresponding section to the extent amended);
d. High weeds/grass (IPMC 302.4 or any corresponding section to the extent amended) and (City Code section 50-124);
e. Graffiti (IPMC 302.9 or any corresponding section to the extent amended);
f. Exterior garbage accumulation (IPMC 307.1 or any corresponding section to the extent amended) and (City Code section 50-124);
g. Open storage in residential districts (3- 060-C-5, 3-070-C-1 and 3-070-C-2, or any corresponding section to the extent amended
h. Nonresident recreational vehicles (3-060-C-5 or any corresponding section to the extent amended).
- Bryan Chambers, Nuisance Citations Piling up Quickly, The Herald Dispatch (Jul. 26, 2013, 12:00 AM), http://www.herald-dispatch.com/x1495871393/No-Headline (last visited Aug. 12, 2015).
- Charleston, W. Va., Zoning Ordinance § 3-070(C) (2005), available at http://www.cityofcharleston.org/sites/default/files/documents/Zoning%20Ordinance%20Amended%20 to%203-2-15.pdf.
- The Charleston Case Study was adapted from materials developed by Paul Ellis and Susan Economou for their presentation of “On the Spot Citations, A Game Changer” at the West Virginia Continuing Legal Education event, WV Dilapidated Buildings and Abandoned Properties: From Liability to Viability, held May 14, 2015, at the WVU Medical Center in Charleston, West Virginia. Mr. Ellis and Ms. Economou are attorneys for the City of Charleston.