Municipal Code forms a contract between the City and the Residents on how the City is to be run. An enforceable contract requires: an offer, an agreement, and consideration:
- The offer is from the City; to make the Community a more desirable and safe place to live. The specifics of this offer are defined in the Municipal Code.
- The agreement is where both the Residents and City agree to a dollar amount for that purpose. Generally, this is defined by dollars per thousand in assessed value. .
- The consideration is the City collecting property taxes through consent by ballot for taxes to implement the Municipal Code.
In Cities where Code is poorly enforced, Code violations tend to be more prevalent. A general decline in the quality of life and property values also occurs.
Using Code in your presentations names the problem. Adding references to State Law will create inertia towards resolution. Essentially in my presentations I was declaring the City in default of its contract with the Residents.
State Law requires a good faith effort on the part of the City Manager to implement Code. (See Law Tab) If this is not happening in your City; a coherent case for change in policies is the easiest remedy. The City Manager is a policy decision, and the Podium is the perfect place to articulate: Code issues and State Law; and the consequences of inaction.
I am introducing the basic terms covered in Code that you are likely to need for your campaign. Understanding what these terms mean and how they work will allow you to make a case for change in the way your City operates.
I will be using Burien's Municipal Code (BMC) for illustrative purposes. Your City's Municipal Code maybe worded slightly differently, but I believe you will find the intent is the same.
I have provided a synopsis in black at the beginning of each term to help you understand the meaning of the Code. The actual text from the BMC are in red. I have highlighted the specific portions I referenced in my presentations.
The Business License section is not highlighted. I have thoughts and concerns that I will share called “A Pound of Flesh” when you reach that section.
Nuisances cover a variety of acts that degrade. All Codes provide a detailed list of nuisances. They can be visual, sanitary, noise or any other quality of life degradations. I have included the full text from the nuisance section:
BMC 8.45(5) “Nuisance” (also referred to herein as “violation” or “nuisance violation”) means:
- A violation of any city of Burien ordinance;
- Doing an act, omitting to perform any act or duty, or permitting or allowing any act or omission, which annoys, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others, is unreasonably offensive to the senses, or which obstructs or interferes with the free use of property so as to interfere with or disrupt the free use of that property by any lawful owner or occupant; or
- The existence, without limitation, of any of the following conditions:
- Trash Covered Premises. Any premises containing trash or abandoned materials, except that kept in garbage cans or containers maintained for regular collection;
- Dangerous Structures. Any dangerous, decaying, unkempt, falling or damaged dwelling, fence, or other structure;
- Potential Vermin Habitat or Fire Hazard. Any accumulation of material on a property including, but not limited to, animal matter, ashes, bottles, boxes, broken stone, building materials which are not properly stored or neatly piled, cans, cement, crates, empty barrels, dead animals or animal waste, glass, litter, mattresses or bedding, old appliances or equipment or any parts thereof, furniture, iron or other scrap metal, packing cases, packing material, plaster, plastic, rags, wire, yard waste or debris or other objects which endanger property or public safety, or constitute a fire hazard or vermin habitat; provided, that nothing herein shall prevent the temporary retention of waste in approved, covered receptacles;
- Junk Vehicles. Any wrecked, inoperable, abandoned or disassembled trailer, house trailer, boat, tractor, automobile or other vehicle, or any parts thereof. A junk vehicle includes apparently inoperable, immobile, disassembled or extensively damaged vehicles. Evidence of inoperability and damage includes, but is not limited to, a buildup of debris that obstructs use, a broken window or windshield, a missing wheel, a flat tire, a nonfunctional motor or transmission, missing bumpers, or missing license plates; provided nothing herein shall prevent the keeping or storage of any vehicle on private property which is screened from view;
- Attractive Nuisances. Any attractive nuisance which may prove detrimental to children, whether in or on a building, on the premises of a building, or upon an unoccupied lot, which is left in any place exposed or accessible to children. This includes unused or abandoned refrigerators, freezers, or other large appliances or equipment or any parts thereof; abandoned motor vehicles; any structurally unsound or unsafe fence or edifice; any unsecured or abandoned excavation, pit, well, cistern, storage tank or shaft; and any lumber, trash, debris or vegetation which may prove a hazard for minors;
- Obstructions to the Public Right-of-Way. Use of property abutting a public street or sidewalk or use of a public street or sidewalk which causes any obstruction to traffic or to open access to the streets or sidewalks; provided, that this subsection shall not apply to events, parades, or the use of the streets or public rights-of-way when authorized by the city. This section includes the existence of drainage onto or over any sidewalk, street or public right-of-way, and the existence of any debris or plant growth on sidewalks adjacent to any property;
- Vegetation. Any noxious or toxic weed or uncultivated plant, weeds or tall grass which may be a fire hazard, or any tree which is in danger of falling and creates a substantial risk of damage or injury;
- Illegal Dumping. Dumping of any type by any person on public or private property not registered as a legal dump site; and
- Dumping in Waterways. Dumping, depositing, placing or leaving of any garbage, ashes, debris, gravel, earth, rock, stone or other material upon the banks, channels, beds or bars of any navigable water; or the felling of any tree or trees, so that the same shall in whole or in part project within the high water bank of any navigable watercourse; or the casting, placing, depositing or leaving of any logs, roots, snags, stumps or brush upon the banks or in the bed or channel of any navigable watercourse.
Abatement is the act of cleaning up nuisances. This can either be done by the property owner or by the City. BMC 1.15.210 (1) Abatement by City. The city may perform the abatement required upon noncompliance with the terms of an unappealed notice of violation, a voluntary correction agreement, or a final order of the hearing examiner. The city may utilize city employees or a private contractor under city direction to accomplish the abatement. The city, its employees and agents using lawful means are expressly authorized to enter upon the property of the violator for such purposes. Nothing in this chapter shall prohibit the city from pursuing abatement of a violation pursuant to any other laws of the state of Washington or the city.
Summary Abatement is when the City cleans up a nuisance when the owner refuses to do so or when impending harm to the community is imminent without immediate action.
BMC 1,15.210 (2) Summary Abatement. Whenever any violation causes a condition the continued existence of which constitutes an immediate threat to the public health, safety or welfare or to the environment, the city may summarily and without prior notice abate the condition. Notice of such abatement, including the reason for it, shall be given to the person responsible for the violation as soon as reasonably possible after the abatement. No right of action shall lie against the city or its agents, officers, or employees for actions reasonably taken to prevent or cure any such immediate threats, but neither shall the city be entitled to recover any costs incurred for summary abatement, prior to the time that notice thereof is served on the person responsible for the violation as set forth in BMC 1.15.070.
Recovery of Costs includes: staff time, attorney expenses, and abatement action. These are detailed in the Municipal Code. BMC 1.15.200 (2) Recovery of Costs. The city shall bill its costs, including incidental expenses, of pursuing code compliance and/or of abating a violation to the person responsible for the violation and/or against the subject property. Such costs shall become due and payable 30 days after the date of the bill. The term “incidental expenses” shall include, but not be limited to, personnel costs, both direct and indirect, including attorneys’ fees incurred by the city; costs incurred in documenting the violation; the actual expenses and costs to the city in the preparation of notices, specifications and contracts, and in inspecting the work; hauling, storage and disposal expenses; the cost of any required printing and mailing; and interest. The city manager or designee, or the hearing examiner, may in his or her discretion waive in whole or part the assessment of any costs upon a showing that abatement has occurred or is no longer necessary or that the costs would cause a significant financial hardship for the responsible party. Any challenge to the amount of the abatement costs must be made within 14 days of issuance of the bill and shall be heard by the city manager in an informal hearing. The city manager shall make a written determination as to whether or not the city’s costs were accurate and necessary for accomplishing the abatement.
Liens are the involuntary method Cities use to collect monies owed in abatement action. They cannot be discharged through either bankruptcy or foreclosure. They carry a significant interest penalty. BMC 1.15.200 (4) Assessment Lien. If penalties or costs assessed against a property are not paid within 30 days, the city clerk shall certify to the county treasurer the confirmed amount for assessment on the tax rolls. The county treasurer shall enter the amount of such assessment upon the tax rolls against the property for the current year and the same shall become a part of the general taxes for that year to be collected at the same time and with interest at such rates as provided in RCW 84.56.020, as now or hereafter amended, for delinquent taxes,
and when collected to be deposited to the credit of the general fund of the city. The lien shall be of equal rank with the state, county and municipal taxes. The validity of any assessment made under the provisions of this chapter shall not be contested in any action or proceeding unless the same is commenced within 15 calendar days after the assessment is placed upon the assessment roll. The city attorney may also file a lien for such costs against the real property.
Parking regulations detail: how many vehicles may be parked at a given residence; where they must park; and that they must be operable and licensed. BMC10.11.010 The primary purpose of yards on residential property is to provide access to light and air and to provide circulation, recreation, and landscaping around the primary dwelling building(s). The presence of such yards on residential property is beneficial to the general health and welfare of the community. The purpose of this chapter is to restrict the number of motor vehicles that may be parked on residential property by declaring the parking of motor vehicles in violation of this chapter to be a public nuisance.
BMC 10.11.020 (2) “Operable vehicle” is a motor vehicle which is capable of being operated legally on a public highway, as defined by RCW 46.04.197, and has, in fact, been operated on a public highway in the previous 30 days.
BMC 10.11.030 No more than four motor vehicles shall be parked on a residential lot. Each motor vehicle must be currently licensed and operable. [Ord. 492 § 1, 2008]
BMC 19.20.10. B. All vehicle parking and storage must be in a garage, carport or on an approved impervious surface. Any impervious surface used for vehicle parking or storage must have direct and unobstructed driveway access.
Parking spaces for a single detached dwelling unit shall be adequately sized and located to accommodate a standard-sized vehicle without the vehicle extending into the public right-of-way or vehicular access easement or tract.
Responsible Party is the person or entity that is financially liable for the nuisance. BMC 1.15.20 “Person” means any individual, firm, business, association, partnership, corporation, or other legal entity, public or private, however organized. Because “person” shall include both human beings and organizational entities, any of the following pronouns may be used to describe a person: he, she, or it.
“Person responsible for the violation” or “violator” means any of the following: a person who has titled ownership or legal control of the property or structure that is subject to the regulation; an occupant or other person in control of the property or structure that is subject to the regulation; a developer, builder, business operator, or owner who is developing, building, or operating a business on the property or in a structure that is subject to the regulation; a mortgagee that has filed an action in foreclosure on the property that is subject to the regulation, based on breach or default of the mortgage agreement, until title to the property is transferred to a third party; a mortgagee of property that is subject to the regulation and has not been occupied by the owner, the owner’s tenant, or a person having the owner’s permission to occupy the premises for a period of at least 90 days; or any person who created, caused, participated in, or has allowed a violation to occur.
Rental Property Regulation is covered by Municipal Code. Its scope of coverage varies by Municipality. Burien's coverage starts at 4 units per location. BMC 5.62 (3) For purposes of this chapter, a “rental housing facility” means the operation of rental housing of four or more “dwelling units,” as defined in BMC 19.10.115, at one location within the city.
Business License regulations are specified in Municipal Code. They provide detailed fitness requirements to operate within the City limits. Most Cities have regulations similar to the BMC. BMC 5.05.130 The city manager or designee may deny, suspend or revoke a business license, with cause. Cause for denial, suspension or revocation shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
(2) Any applicant who has suffered a civil judgment based upon fraud, misrepresentation, violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, or similar state or federal statutes, or any other judgment or cease and desist order, or consent degree, relating to business activities; provided, that the time elapsed between the entry of judgment and the date of application is less than two years.
BMC 5.05.140 (3) The licensee, or licensee’s management personnel, has been convicted of a crime, or suffered civil judgment or consent decree which bears a direct relationship to the conduct of the business licensed pursuant to this chapter;
Making a case for the revocation of a Bank's business license will likely derail your campaign. There are many reasons for this. A few are:
- Courts are unlikely to side with the City where there is selective and unequal enforcement of Code. A City's will not bring action where it is unlikely to prevail.
- The City Manager has the sole discretion on revocation of a business license.
- Blaming the Banks allows the City to deflect its responsibility in allowing the matter to exist in the first place.
Alternatively, I propose that you keep the focus on resolution. Showing the costs to the Community and the City coffers puts the onus on the City Manager, the person who allowed the problem to happen. The City has the legal prerogatives under Code to address all blighting, or any other offense that degrades (see the first highlighted section under Nuisances) the community.