An Amador County citizen and property owner filed a complaint with the Grand Jury regarding a notice of violation received from the Land Use Agency, Building Department. The Grand Jury has jurisdiction to investigate and report on operations, accounts, and records of the officers, departments, or functions of the county pursuant to Section 925 of the Penal Code.
co-owner of a rental property, filed a Grand
Jury Citizen Complaint Form dated September 15, 2000 complaining about the
operating procedures and policies of the Building Department.
Department had inspected the complainant’s property in response to a complaint
from the tenant of the property alleging the dwelling had numerous electrical
problems that created a hazard to public safety.
After inspecting the property on August 8, 2000, the Building Department
sent a letter of violation dated September 8, 2000 to the owners requiring
compliance with building codes. In
addition to electrical code violations, the violation letter noted structural
violations and certain permitting failures.
Upon receipt of the
violation letter, the complainant spoke by telephone with the Building Inspector
who had made the inspection and written the violation letter.
Not satisfied with the inspector’s responses and being further advised
that the department might levy charges of $30.00 for phone calls and $30.00 per
hour for additional inspections, the complainant went to the Building Department
counter at the Begovich Building. The
complainant spoke in person to the Building Inspector and his supervisor.
During this conversation the Building Official joined the conversation to
provide some technical definitions from department procedure manuals.
After this meeting the complainant filed a complaint with the Grand Jury.
The members of the Grand Jury interviewed the following people:
Land Use Agency
Director (on 02/09/01)
Inspector not involved with the complaint (on 02/09/01)
Building Inspector who inspected the complainant’s property (on 03/20/01)
The complaint form contained the following:
Item 2: My Complaint Against the Above (The Building Inspector)
“Right to be
notified prior to inspection and right to accompany the inspector.”
“Right of owner
to correct electrical system and certified safe by the Bldg.
electrician by Bldg. Dept.
Inspector did recommend two electricians.”
“$30 fee for calling in inquiring about the inspection.”
Item 4: Action Requested
complaints to Bldg. Dept.”
of the Building Inspector named in the complaint.”
Department recommending electricians.”
“Fee for inquiring about certified letter about inspection.”
The Building Department’s letter of violation contained the following:
were listed but noted as “some but
not necessarily all”:
electrical wiring, faulty breakers in service panel, faulty light switches,
lack of GFI receptacles in kitchen and baths, improperly installed ceiling
“Upstairs family room converted to fourth bedroom. Bathroom added to upstairs family room / bedroom without building permits. Fire/separation wall and ceiling compromised to run plumbing to illegal bathroom.”
Additional pertinent data from the Building Department’s violation letter:
problems appear severe enough to be an imminent life safety hazard.”
system must be certified safe by a licensed electrician.”
electrician you choose must be approved by the Building Department.”
The letter also
required electrical code compliance within 12 days (from the date of the
violation letter), demolition of work done without permit, permits for the
demolition work and a 30-day deadline for completion.
In addition, the
building final inspection was required to be completed in 30 days (from the
date of the violation letter).
was ordered to ensure access to the building for inspections and the
inspections would be billed at $30.00 per hour.
“Failure to heed this notice will result in your file being referred to the Amador County Code Enforcement Officer for legal action.”
provided a letter from a licensed electrician regarding the status of the
building’s electrical system dated 60 days after the letter of violation.
The letter stated the electrical code violations had been corrected.
The Building Inspector provided his notes detailing his chronology from the initial inspection until the case was moved to another inspector as a result of the investigation by the Grand Jury.
1. The complainant’s tenant filed a complaint with the Building Department alleging electrical problems in the dwelling.
2. Based on the tenant’s description of the electrical problems, a Building Inspector was assigned and an inspection of the building was completed.
3. The building inspection prompted the Building Department to issue a letter of violation.
4. The complainant had a personal meeting with Building Department personnel.
5. The complainant filed a complaint with the Grand Jury.
As relates to the complaint:
1. Building Department’s operating policies permit inspection of a property where public safety hazards are suspected without permission of the owner if inspectors are voluntarily admitted onto the property.
2. The Building Department maintains a set of prerequisites that define experience and education requirements necessary to be a Building Inspector. The Building Official advised the committee that the inspector assigned to the complainant’s property was qualified to be an Amador County Building Inspector.
3. The Building Department has a standing policy that the department does not make recommendations regarding specific contractors.
The Uniform Building Code allows a charge of $30.00 per hour for
some type of inspections and code interpretations meetings.
As relates to violation letter:
5. Land Use Agency and some Building Department personnel judged the violation letter somewhat draconian. The description of code violations was considered overstated and compliance dates unreasonable.
6. The choice of phrases regarding the use of contractors for code compliance inferred that only county-approved contractors could be used.
1. The violation letter, prompting the complaint, was signed by the Building Inspector. The committee recommended in early meetings with county personnel that violation letters be signed by the Building Official to help ensure that Building Department policies would be followed more closely.
2. The Building Official should consider publishing a Mission Statement outlining the objectives of the department and the contributions made to public safety through the application of uniform building codes. Fieldwork guidelines could be set forth for Building Inspectors to use in their daily work, meeting with contractors and the public in the difficult task of administering building codes.
3. Because the inspector’s environment is always technically challenging and can easily become an adversarial one, a tempered approach by individual inspectors could defuse difficult situations.
In a later meeting
with the Building Official, the Grand Jury was advised that violation letters
are now going out under his signature.
A new computer
system being installed at the time of this report should provide a more
consistent content for future letters of violation.
The system also provides a cross reference of all permits for a property,
providing the inspector with a complete history when making inspections.
No further response is necessary