Best Practices in Code Enforcement

By Bryan Guymon:

At last month’s annual Underwood Law Firm Municipal Law Seminar, Bryan Guymon gave a presentation about Best Practices in Code Enforcement.  The following are a few of the highlights!

1.Some of the difficulties of Code Enforcement can include:

-The complicated legal requirements.

-The political complications.

-The cost of enforcement.

-Nobody cares until they care.

-Who owns the property?

-Lack of prior consistent enforcement makes it more difficult.


2.What authority for Code Enforcement does a City have?

A.Home-Rule Municipalities can:

-Define and prohibit any nuisance within the limits of the municipality and within 5,000 feet outside the limits.

-Enforce all ordinances necessary to prevent and summarily abate and remove a nuisance.

B.Type A General-Law Municipalities can:

-Abate and remove a nuisance and punish by fine the person responsible for the nuisance.

-Define and declare what constitutes a nuisance.

-Abate in any manner the governing body considers expedient any nuisance that may injure or affect the public health or comfort.

C.Type B General-Law Municipalities can:

-Prevent to the extent practicable any nuisance within city limits.

-Have each nuisance removed at the expense of the person who is responsible for the nuisance or who owns the property on which the nuisance exists.


3.What options exist for enforcement of general nuisance laws?

A.Fines & Penalties – General Enforcement Authority

-Most city ordinance violations carry a maximum fine of $500.00.

-But there are penalties of up to $2,000.00 for violations of “fire safety, zoning or public health and sanitation”. Loc. Gov’t Code § 54.001 (b)(1).

-Penalties of up to $4,000.00 for violating a rule regarding the dumping of refuse. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 54.001 (b)(2).

B.Civil Action to enforce an ordinance for:

-Preservation of public safety regarding materials used in construction;

-Preservation of public health/safety for fire safety issues in construction;

-For zoning classification enforcement;

-Land subdivision enforcement;

-Implementing civil penalties for Class C misdemeanors as defined by statute;

-Dangerously damaged or deteriorating buildings;

-Accumulations of refuse, vegetation, or other matter that creates breeding and living places for insects and rodents.


4.What are some tools to help the City with general code enforcement?

-Educational meetings/seminars.

-Community clean up days.

-Individual incentives.

-Assistance programs.

-Use public meetings.

-Use your resources for identifying problem areas including police, City employees, and citizen complaint process.

-Focus message on moving forward.

-Use the media.

5.Keep the following “Best Practices” in mind:

-Ensure City ordinance is current

-Use checklists to ensure compliance

-Be more tolerant than law requires.

-Commitment to consistency.

-Develop a plan to meet your long-term goals.

-Review your current ordinances for legal and practical concerns.

-Focus on consistency.

-Community engagement is a must.

-Focus on compliance, not penalties.

-And always….. Document! Document! Document!

Please remember that you should consult with your City Attorney with any specific questions you may have.