The Code Compliance Section is responsible for the investigation and enforcement of situations involving building, environmental, and zoning violations, including work without permits, as well as enforcing violations of the vacation and hosted rental ordinances. In addition, this Section offers staff and administrative support for Neglected Property and Dangerous Building/Site Abatement Programs. This section is also working closely with the Cannabis Licensing Office where illegal cultivation or manufacturing includes violations of building or zoning regulations in addition to violations of the cannabis ordinance.
These programs generally operate in responses to citizen complaints of alleged code violations or from referrals from other public agencies, but at times are initiated by Department staff such as for unpermitted construction underway, or situations of life-safety hazards or severe nuisance activities. Cases are investigated and, if appropriate, administrative citations, warning and/or violation notices are issued. Increased (double) fees may be associated with permits resulting from "Stop Work" and code compliance cases. These actions may be followed by additional legal sanctions, such as recordation, fines, or civil penalties. The overall objective of the code enforcement process is to motivate the property owner to discontinue the illegal use or activity and/or to obtain the required permits.
Code Compliance Overview
Responsibilities of the Code Compliance Section
The Code Compliance Section of the Planning Department is responsible for the enforcement of:
- Building Code requirement for permits
- Zoning Ordinance
- Environmental Protection Ordinances
- Abatement of Dangerous Buildings
The Code Compliance Investigators respond to complaints from the public and referrals from local agencies, such as local fire departments, sheriff, and State agencies, such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The mission of this section is to ensure the equitable and consistent enforcement of local building and land use regulations as adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
The conversion of a structure from non-habitable uses, such as a garage, to a habitable use, such as a studio unit, is a typical complaint. The grading of a parcel without the required grading permit is a typical violation of the County's environmental protection ordinances. An unsecured abandoned building is the type of complaint handled as a Dangerous Building.
The Enforcement Process
The enforcement process usually begins with a "Stop Work" notice or the filing of a complaint, alleging that a violation of County land use regulations has occurred. A First Contact Letter is sent to the property owner upon receipt of the complaint, informing them of the complaint. Next, the Code Compliance Investigator, reviews the complaint, completes research of available building land use information and records, and conducts a site inspection.
If the reported violation is confirmed, a Notice of Violation is posted on the property and the property owner is informed, by mail, that a violation has been posted and must be corrected within a specific amount of time, usually 90 days. The property owner has 20 days within which to appeal the issuance of this notice. If the notice is not appealed, it may be recorded on the title to the property, informing any future owner that there is a violation that must be corrected. However, a Notice of Violation is not recorded on the title if good faith progress is made to cure the violation.
The property may be reinspected, usually 90 days after the notice was issued, and if the violation has been corrected, the investigation is resolved. If the violation remains, the matter may be referred for an administrative hearing, or to County Counsel, or the District Attorney for legal action. Although voluntary compliance is sought, uncorrected violations can result in significant penalties to the property owner. Additionally, the property owner or responsible party is liable for enforcement costs, that is staff time spent on obtaining compliance.
In some cases where resolution of a violation is relatively simple, the code investigator may post an administrative citation rather than sending a first contact letter. Administrative citations come with a $100 fine for a first offence, per code section violated. If the violation is not rectified within a reasonable amount of time, further citations may be posted daily until the violation has been resolved. A second citation is a $200 fine, and every citation thereafter carries a $500 fine. For example, in the case of a vacation rental without a permit an initial citation may grant 10 days in which to cancel reservations, remove the advertising of the unit, and make an application for a permit. If the unit is still being rented after 10 days, further citations may be posted daily.
The Abatement Process
The Code Compliance Section has access to a limited amount of funds available for abatement of properties where all other efforts for compliance have been exhausted. These cases typically involve dangerous buildings and neglected properties. In these cases, several bids will be sought from contractors who specialize in demolition and cleanup, and the lowest bidder will be selected. Once the nuisance has been abated, the cost of that action will be attached to the property tax bill for cost recovery. Once that bill has been paid, the fund for abatement is replenished and further abatement can take place.
To File A Complaint
A complaint can be filed using our online code compliance complaint form, in writing, or by FAX. The source of all complaints remains confidential and will not be released by the County, unless required to do so by Court Order.
Report a violation by fax: 831-454-2131, attn: Code Compliance
Code Compliance, Planning Department
701 Ocean Street, 4th Floor
Santa Cruz, California 95060