This case is a pretty telling example of the miss use of Hearing Examiners.
For years, Oakland has treated small property owners as a piggy bank, demanding ever growing penalties for minor, alleged building code violations and denying property owners any legitimate opportunity to defend themselves. But thanks to a PLF victory in the California Court of Appeal, that abuse will come to an end.
Things got so bad that Alameda County issued a grand jury report condemning the city’s code enforcement agency for creating an “atmosphere of hostility and intimidation toward property owners.” The grand jury found that inspectors would issue inconsistent findings: one inspector would clear a property only to have another declare trivial violations. Once a violation was declared, property owners were at the mercy of the enforcement agency, the grand jury found. Property owners had no right to a fair and impartial appeal. If a notice of violation was in error, the property owner’s only recourse was to plead with the inspector to withdraw it. When the inspector inevitably declined, the property owner’s last resort was to ask the inspector’s supervisor to overrule her. But that usually proved futile because inspectors did not keep adequate records to allow that review and, even when they did, the supervisor had an incentive to deny reconsideration: the agency profited immensely from the fees charged for finding violations.