For several months, Burbank residents have gone before the City Council complaining about the lack of building code enforcement occurring in town, specifically when a homeowner demolishes a home without permits or builds a house that is different from what was approved.
Community Development Director Patrick Prescott discussed with council members on Tuesday some of the ways he is trying to effect more proactive enforcement around the city in order to catch those who are not following the law.
"Recently, due to some egregious violations of the building code and illegal demolition of single-family homes, it became necessary to review our formerly softer approach to enforcement," Prescott said.
Prescott said his department receives about 1,100 complaints each year, mainly related to nonpermitted construction and zoning violations. Those complaints are handled by six code enforcement inspectors.
He added that one half-time and six full-time building inspectors collectively perform about 20,000 inspections each year.
The somewhat lax code enforcement practices have raised the concerns of residents. Prescott said that in the past, code inspectors out in the field would allow changes to city-approved plans, which was an action residents did not agree with, even if the modifications were within the building code.
There has also been an issue with code inspectors not catching those who illegally tear down their houses without receiving the proper permits from the city.
After receiving several complaints from residents and input from the City Council, the Community Development Department in March decided to take a more aggressive and proactive approach to code enforcement.
"The intent of our more aggressive enforcement policy is to sort out the bad actors and ensure their compliance, as well as to send a clear message that violations of the zoning code and illegal construction is just not tolerated in Burbank," Prescott said
Since March, several changes have been made within the department to tighten up enforcement. Prescott said changes to building plans made out in the field are not allowed, and if the homeowners want to make changes, they must bring their changes to planning staff.
The Community Development Department is also recruiting an additional code enforcement inspector, who will conduct Saturday and Sunday enforcement to catch anyone doing illegal construction on both weekend days. There is currently one inspector who does inspections only on Saturdays.
Prescott said they have also changed their policy on issuing fines on a property owner if they continue working on their project after they have been issued a red tag or a notice to stop work.
Building inspectors previously had the option of imposing a double permit fee penalty, which would result in a fee ranging between $4,000 and $6,000, on those who continue working on a project after they receive a "stop work" order. Prescott said the current policy is to issue a double permit fee penalty on all projects that have been issued a notice to stop work.
Prescott said that in some cases where a property owner continues to flaunt the law, the enforcement officers could use additional tools, such as issuing a notice of violation or pursuing civil or criminal prosecution.
Prescott said his department is looking into other ways they can make property owners comply with the law.
The offenders could enter into a receivership, in which a third party would take temporary control of the house until the issues are resolved.
The city could also consider cleanup campaigns, in which annual efforts would be made to remind residents to address any non-hazardous code violations on their property, such as an inoperable vehicle or over-height weeds.
"I'm hoping we're righting the ship by doing this," Councilman Jess Talamantes told Prescott. "If there's things we need to tweak and change along the way, bring it forward."