A Little Inside Baseball … “The Process”

Posted by – Dale Mathes, Code Enforcement Officer

We are often asked by people … What’s taking so long?  I filed a formal complaint about my neighbor’s (you fill in the blank) and nothing is happening?

Issuing a Civil Infraction is a last resort

Many may not know that the City must follow what we call … “The Process.”  What’s that?  Well, in every case we must follow specifically mandated procedures to ensure that legal due process is upheld.  It may be frustrating, but there is a method behind the madness.

“The Process” begins with the identification of a violation.  It can be initiated by a citizen’s complaint, anonymous or otherwise.  Complaints may come directly to us (248-364-6900), be called into the Ordinance Enforcement Complaint Line (248-364-6935), or sent through the City’s website.  An inquiry can also be provided to us via telegraph, snail mail, or carrier pigeon; however, most violations are observed proactively by the City’s Code Enforcement Officers (one full-time: Darren Darge and one part-time: Yours Truly).

Once the violation is identified – and personally eyeballed by us – a Violation Notice is issued by mail to advise the owner/occupant of the property of what the violation consists of and what will be required to rectify the situation.  Generally, a time frame of 10 days is given to correct the problem.  We always seek voluntary compliance because, as you will see, it’s quicker and less expensive for the City.

If the citizen corrects the violation – as happens 90% of the time – the case is closed and filed away as “complied.”  Sometimes the citizen may need more time to comply and we are more than willing to allow it, if a good faith effort is demonstrated.

However, if the violation is not corrected in a timely manner, we have more options at our disposal.  An additional Violation Notice may be issued with a definitive time line or a Civil Infraction Ticket may be issued via Certified Mail.

There are two types of Civil Infractions – the first gives the violator the option of paying for the ticket or requesting an Informal Hearing at 52nd/3rd District Court.  The second is a Formal Hearing with a judge – which is very rare – and a mandatory appearance by the recipient.  The appropriate option is selected based on the urgency of the situation, the severity of the violation, or the violation history of the recipient. (In the 7 years that I have been going to court in Auburn Hills, only 1 case actually went to trial in front of a judge in a Formal Hearing.  That was with a gentleman who was a hoarder with a 10 year history of violations, court ordered clean-ups, and eventually, a contempt of court citation.  The City had no choice in the matter.)

A formal hearing in front of a judge for a Civil Infraction is very rare

About 3 months later, a court date is established and the officer and the defendant are notified.  About 99% of our cases are taken care of in front of the City’s Prosecuting Attorney in an Informal Hearing.  Generally, the issue has been dealt with by the defendant before the hearing and the case is dismissed.  Sometimes, the person accepts responsibility and pledges to correct the problem.  In this last case, a fine may be levied.

At its fastest “The Process” can take up 4 to 5 months to complete.  But, it helps ensure citizen’s property rights are respected and allows for the enforcement of the City’s ordinances in the most fair and impartial manner as possible.

So, that’s a little inside baseball about how we address complaints.  We take great pride in proactively working with people and seeking voluntary compliance with City laws – which we believe is always the best policy.