3 common misconceptions about code enforcementBy Julie Caler, Code Enforcement Supervisor
When it comes to code enforcement, misconceptions are bountiful. It’s time to take a closer look at some of the myths that surround our services and to clarify the role of the city’s Code Enforcement Division.
First, let’s attempt to separate myth from reality by addressing three of the most common misconceptions:
Myth No. 1: Code Enforcement tickets violations immediately.
Reality: Our goal is to educate the resident, property owner and any person associated with a property. The process begins with a door tag, or in the case of trash can being left out after collection day, a can tag.
The door-tag will say “inspection notice,” and a can tag will simply say “notice.” These tags are not citations, which require you to pay a fine based on a listed fine structure. If you receive an actual code citation or court summons, it means we have sent several letters to you, your property owner and your management company, placed numerous phone calls and left notices about your violation.
Myth No. 2: Code Enforcement does little to address residents’ concerns.
Reality: Unless you’re constantly looking out your window, you might miss the officer placing a tag on the resident’s door or container. Sometimes, residents even throw the tags in the container and leave the container on the curb.
Residents who call in complaints are encouraged to contact us for updates. While we won’t give out details, we can tell you if contact has been made, when we plan to follow-up, and if we have sent a letter.
Myth No. 3: “I don’t like the way that looks, so it must be a violation.”
Reality: Code Enforcement doesn’t have the ability to make things up as we go. For example, some people think a large, 12-inch high clump of clover is a violation, but that’s only true if the entire yard is higher than 12 inches.
Other examples are weeding flower beds, trimming curbs and dead trees. We have no ordinance for flower beds or trimming a curb since these are not health and safety issues, and while a dead tree may be a concern, no ordinance exists regarding dead trees on private property. If the tree falls on someone else’s property, it’s a civil matter between the two parties.
Homeowner associations may even have deed restrictions on dead trees, but those are not enforced by the city.
Now let’s take a closer look at Code Enforcement and why it exists.
What does Code Enforcement do?
College Station’s Code Enforcement Division consists of five officers, including a supervisor and staff assistant. Each officer is responsible for a specific geographic area. Two officers work exclusively with Community Development Block Grants for income-eligible areas.
We don’t sit around waiting for complaints to come in ─ we proactively and reactively respond to potential violations. Proactive is when an officer drives around their respective areas looking for violations. Reactive is when we investigate a possible violation reported by phone, SeeClickFix or email.
In 2014, we’ve handled 7,942 proactive cases, including 537 SeeClickFix complaints and 41 internal complaints. In some cases, the reports turn out to be something a resident doesn’t like seeing, but it’s not a violation. Many of these are civil matters that don’t involve Code Enforcement.
Our foremost goal is to educate citizens on the ordinances, whether it’s a business displaying a banner without a permit or a residential property with a couch on the porch. Educating residents and giving them a reasonable amount of time to correct the violation is key to building a case file if they receive a citation or court summons.
When our officers see a violation, they give the resident seven days to comply before we make phone calls and send letters. We emphasize voluntary compliance by educating citizens before a citation is written.
Why is Code Enforcement necessary?
Most people prefer to live in a nice, clean, safe community. We are officially called Community Enhancement, but in reality, we are Code Enforcement. Through the years, city councils have put ordinances in place to ensure the health, safety and attractiveness of our community.
Can you imagine a community without ordinances or zoning restrictions? Community Enhancement/Code Enforcement strives to make College Station a healthy, safe and nice-looking place to live, work and play.
About the Author
Code Enforcement Supervisor Julie Caler has been with the City of College Station for 15 years.