Complaint-based system drives city code enforcement



Posted on May 22, 2014 at 5:50 AM

Updated Thursday, May 22 at 9:58 AM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- A KREM 2 Investigation into a city code violation in May led to a number of questions about code enforcement. 

A homeowner received a penalty for parking on an unpaved driveway after she had been parking the same way every day for ten years.

WATCH: Homeowner faces $2,000 fix following parking complaint

Viewers wanted to know everything from why homeowners are regulated on their own property to why the city does not do more to clean-up neighbors' yards. 

The City of Spokane told KREM 2 News it enforces city code through a complaint-based system. In order for officers to investigate a code violation, someone needs to report it first.

KREM 2 learned most cities in the country operate under a complaint-based system for code violations.

Homeowner Hazel Jackson started a mission to clean-up every house in her neighborhood. After learning the city only investigated code violations reported by neighbors, she started patrolling the streets where she lives in the Logan Neighborhod.

"It's like night and day here. Nice house, trash house, nice house, and then a trash house," said Jackson.

Jackson said most of her neighbors are open to learning about they can and can't do as a homeowner. But some of her patrols led to unwanted attention.

“One guy told me if I didn’t get away from his property, he’d sic his dogs on me,” Jackson said.

KREM 2 On Your Side went on a drive around the area and found more than a dozen code violations.  KREM 2 asked the city why some violators slipped through the cracks.

City officials said the code enforcement department received nearly 2,000 complaints from neighbors in 2014 by mid-May; nearly a third of them turned out to be non-issues. The city practices checking on remaining offenders two weeks after the first notice and issuing fines to people who had not yet remedied the reported problem.

According to City Code Enforcement, Officers do routinely not monitor offenders from there.

“At this particular point in time, it’s as efficient as possible based on the fact that the complaint driven system that we’ve got is also driven by the dollars and cents, which drive priorities,” said Spokane City Concil Member Mike Fagan.

Fagan said the complaint-based system is intended to encourage neighbors to resolve issues on their own.

The city issued a notice to one man, who felt the system was unfair. Code Enforcement informed Jason Coffman that he was breaking code for having a free-standing basketball net in front of his home. 

Coffman said he understood it was illegal to block the sidewalk, but pointed out two different hoops on his street that were parked the same way. He feels one of his neighbors complained to the city instead of working it out in person.

“I would love to be able to get to the bottom of why this basketball hoop was singled out when there are plenty of violations on my own street,” Coffman said.

Fagan said there was no simple answer to Coffman’s question and that putting regular enforcement patrols on the street would require a vote by the public.

“I’d be open to that kind of an idea,” Fagan said. “That is the best we can do at this point until the public says otherwise.”