Private Property
Matt Powers · July 21, 2016

Elaine Valla rented out several properties in Lompoc, California for decades without having a single issue with the city. But that changed about five years ago, after she complained to the city about road construction done near one of her properties. After complaining to the city, Valla began receiving notifications of code violations for various properties she owns throughout the city. City Councilman James Mosby suggested to the Lompoc Record that Valla was “a victim of payback from the city.”

According to the Lompoc Record:

These included violations related to Valla’s tenants leaving an old barbecue pit near a trash can, other tenants having their tires parked partially on gravel and another tenant having a portable basketball hoop too close to a curb.

Although Valla said the mental toll of the last few years has been more significant than the financial setbacks, she estimated that she’s lost about $48,000 in rent over the past five years at her East Olive Avenue property due to the city, in her estimation, making the home unrentable.

Valla said the notices began to arrive after she and her husband refused to sign a completed-work form for some road construction done near one of their properties. Valla claimed that the construction resulted in a bump at the top of her driveway which “made the property inaccessible to vehicles other than large trucks.” After she complained to the city about this, the notices began.

In recent years, the city has implemented an “all hands” approach to code enforcement, which encourages all city employees to get involved in reporting violations witnessed while performing their regular work duties. The Lompoc Record found that “[a]ccording to data provided by city staff, the number of code enforcement cases opened in the city has steadily increased each year since 2011. That total nearly tripled from 307 in the 2011-12 fiscal year to 915 in the 2015-16 fiscal year.”

Another Councilman was critical of the “all hands” enforcement. He told the Lompoc Record that he felt the policy was creating an “us vs. them” mentality. “People feel that if they make noise, the city is using code enforcement to silence them,” Mosby said. “A lot of people are feeling harassed.” Concerns about code enforcement were discussed at a recent City Council meeting, though no votes were held.

The Institute for Justice filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Pagedale, Missouri’s abuses of municipal code enforcement. Residents in Pagedale can be fined for things like wearing pants too low, barbequing on their front lawns outside of national holidays, and having mismatched curtains.