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Enforcement Anonymous complaints

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
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11,506
Points
41
When a councilman forwards a complaint to a planner, is it okay for the planner to notify the property owner that the complaint came from the councilman? Asking for a friend.
 

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
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12,543
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54
When a councilman forwards a complaint to a planner, is it okay for the planner to notify the property owner that the complaint came from the councilman? Asking for a friend.

I have what is often the unpopular viewpoint that zoning/code complaints should be allowed to be anonymous - why start a neighborhood feud because Ralph is making sure Donny next door got a permit for his deck?

People have said to me - you should face your accuser and I say, really? for a deck permit? He didn't burn the guy's house down, he just wants to know if he got a permit. Let it lay low.

When I have been in a position to tell Code what to do, I always say, keep them anonymous - you were driving by the house and noticed you didn't have a permit for that deck

And if a chief elected official makes a code complaint, I definitely would not tell the person - unless it clear harassment, that is, you have to inspect and re-inspect and consistently find nothing, but are asked to keep doing it, then again, don't say anything
 

Whose Yur Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
11,463
Points
40
We keep the name of the person who files a complaint anonymous. I started this practice a long time ago when I was in code enforcement. There too much of a chance for things to go sideways. Plus, if there is something to the complaint, the issue is with us, and that is what the person should be focusing on.

On a side note, I used to ask why a person filed a complaint. I stopped doing when they would tell me why. I found out that I really didn't want to know.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
7,155
Points
40
I have what is often the unpopular viewpoint that zoning/code complaints should be allowed to be anonymous - why start a neighborhood feud because Ralph is making sure Donny next door got a permit for his deck?

We do not accept anonymous zoning complaints here. Either you own up to it or we don't act on it. I was told specifically by folks from the UNC School of Government that it's entirely up to local policy whether we accept them or not.

Anonymous complaints are just neighbor vs. neighbor battles. I generally only act on complaints if we receive two or more from other property owners.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
15,021
Points
52
My current city keeps it all anonymous. The inspectors just say there was a complaint or they were driving by.

My last county job I made it open. You get a lot fewer complaints if the person making the compliant actually has to go on record. I started it when the dumb @ss that sued me for corruption (after the fact) decided to complain about every person that had any amount of junk in their yard. So I went door to door inspecting, telling the person I'm here because Mr. X complained about junk on your property because he's under violation and wanted to make sure others go down with him. Mr. X lost a lot of business over that week.

I also liked letting people know that if I went to their neighbors property to inspect I would be inspecting all surrounding properties while I'm out there. The other great line, "Do you really want the government to step in and help?" A lot of things were handled neighbor to neighbor in my county.
 

kms

Cyburbian
Messages
6,438
Points
40
We do not accept anonymous zoning complaints here. Either you own up to it or we don't act on it. I was told specifically by folks from the UNC School of Government that it's entirely up to local policy whether we accept them or not.

Anonymous complaints are just neighbor vs. neighbor battles. I generally only act on complaints if we receive two or more from other property owners.
An anonymous complaint and keeping a complainant's name confidential are two different things.

We operate under a delegation agreement and have to respond to anonymous complaints within the prescribed time frame.

I can't imagine how satisfying it is to know that you're the reason someone had to get a culvert permit and has no idea how the state found out. Yeah, buddy, no one knows it was you who ratted. Keep believing that.
 

Maister

Chairman of the bored
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Moderator
Messages
28,804
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71
People have said to me - you should face your accuser and I say, really? for a deck permit? He didn't burn the guy's house down, he just wants to know if he got a permit. Let it lay low.
When Legal Scholars like that make such a demand I'm quick to point out "oh, you're talking about the Sixth Amendment." Which states:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to…... be confronted with the witnesses against him
So what criminal offense have you been charged with, sir?
 

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
12,543
Points
54
I can understand the need to curb people complaining for no reason so if code checks it out and it's fine then the next time that person calls, you have the right to probe it a little with them - as I said before, you can't harass people

We have a great court case in my fair state, that I was involved in as a good thing, that you can't make a code enforcement officer take action by appealing a request for an inspection that was not done or did not give you the desired effect

so the guy repeatedly complained about his neighbor, it was unfounded so she stopped inspecting from the calls/letters and he tried to take us to court and it was found he cannot compel a code enforcement officer to take action - he had no standing to file an appeal at a local level is well

you can have a policy to respond to complaints within x amount of time but nothing compels you to take action.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
7,155
Points
40
An anonymous complaint and keeping a complainant's name confidential are two different things.

True, but everything that comes in to our office is public record for the most part, including complaints.

I had to get these folks to remove some campers they had on some property they owned. Some of the campers had been there for decades, way before our ordinances, but one or two had been moved out recently. We wouldn't have done anything about it, but this woman kept complaining and complaining until it became some big political issue. The folks who had to remove the campers were all pissed off, wanting to know who submitted the complaint and that they were going to complain about all the other campers in the entire county. At that time, we accepted anonymous complaints. I told them that we had received some emails from the woman who was complaining and those are of course public record, and if they were so inclined they could put in a public records request to find out who it was.

They did, and it turned out the woman complaining was some cousin of theirs who was in some family disagreement over the property.
 

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
671
Points
28
I'll take anonymous complaints, but have stated clearly that they take the lowest of the low priority. And you really have to submit it anonymously, because anybody can have my entire email inbox any time they want it, just by asking. If it really was someone letting me know about something of consequence (has never happens with an anonymous complaint) I'd take a drive out and then initiate the enforcement myself.

I also have made it clear that my determination in response to a complaint, including if I decide that there is a violation but that I will not take action on it (beyond informing the owner of the offending property) is appeal-able to our governing body. That of course, cannot happen anonymously.

All of my anonymous complainants have been so incredibly obvious it's laughable anyhow. Like two people with houses next to each other (and a history of quarreling) on the street and nobody else is around- I wonder who complained about the unpermitted deck?
 

OfficialPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
942
Points
24
The State of Florida for example has a very broad public records laws. I imagine complaints could not legally withhold the name of the complaint on a code enforcement matter if the municipality had it in its records. What I've seen done is advise the person to make a call to the zoning/code officer and do not provide a name or contact information.

Has that been your experience for planners in Florida?
 

SlaveToTheGrind

Cyburbian
Messages
1,456
Points
27
When a councilman forwards a complaint to a planner, is it okay for the planner to notify the property owner that the complaint came from the councilman? Asking for a friend.

Due to the cost of spending personal political capital and most likely not getting a refund, I would ask my boss, the city manager.
 

RandomPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,757
Points
26
In my last community, my Code Enforcement team knew that, when pressed for a name of who complained, they could claim it was me. "I don't know, I guess the Director saw the issue" usually quieted people down -- especially in situations where they thought they could guess which neighbor was complaining. I would be willing to wager that my name is listed most in the software as 'complainant' for each of the four years I worked there.

Also, I didn't live in that municipality so it made it easier to blame me.
 
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