Code Violations: Getting Ahead of Municipal Fines

Property ownership comes with various responsibilities, including compliance with local ordinances and regulations. Many municipalities have the authority to issue daily fines for non-compliance with the health, building, and/or zoning ordinance. While these fines are intended to ensure community safety and property maintenance, there are many problems with how some municipalities go about communicating with the property owner. 

For example, we recently helped a client resolve a situation where their property was condemned for seemingly no reason but the condemnation notice provided no information on the actual violation. It did not even include the responding agency or official’s name or contact number. 

While many property owners want to comply with minimum code requirements, it can be frustrating when they try to clarify what needs to be done, only to be told by an inspector, “I’m not going to tell you how to comply. You figure it out.” 

However, some violations are easier to remedy than others. For example, installing a gutter, replacing a window, or repairing a chimney seems fairly straightforward. But what about issues like abating a lead condition? Or rehabilitating a vacant and structurally unsound property? Or addressing a rat problem? Even the most well-intentioned property owners who try to comply can accumulate hefty municipal fines simply because the actions they take are deemed insufficient by the municipal authority. 

An egregious example, recently a Chicagoland property owner found themselves facing $15 million in fines related to rat infestations at various properties. It’s no surprise that rat issues exist in dense urban areas. Most reasonable property owners understand the risk of harm that rats pose to their property and the surrounding area. However, it’s not always clear what to do to fix the problem. Generally, code violations that do not have an easy fix tend to expose property owners to a greater risk of enforcement actions and fines. 

When a property owner is cited for violations that are unclear or cannot be immediately remedied, it is crucial to develop a strategy for resolving the matter, whether it be through an appeal of the notice, compliance, or negotiation with the municipality. Failing to respond quickly can lead to fines, court actions, judgments, liens, foreclosure, receiverships, and more. For this reason, working with an experienced land use attorney from the outset can help the property owner resolve the issues in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. 

If you have questions about code violations or municipal fines, we’d love to hear from you! You can reach us at

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only. It is not considered legal advice on any subject matter. The information provided here does not create, and receipt of it does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon this information without seeking advice from an attorney licensed in your own state or country.