Pubdate: Tue, 04 Aug 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat


Code enforcement should have some discretion on whether to cite owners

What if you were asked this: If someone else commits a crime on your 
property, should you be accountable for that crime and be punished for it?

Before you decided on an answer, you'd probably want to know a couple 
of things. Would you have been aware the crime was happening? Did you 
have a chance (and take it) to thwart the law-breaking? Fair is fair. 
In Yuba County, right now, if you're a landlord whose tenant grows 
marijuana illegally, you're going to have fines levied against you, 
without question. You'll be able to appeal to county supervisors and 
make a case for why you shouldn't be held responsible ... but code 
enforcement personnel have no choice but to fine you, because of how 
the law is written.

In a story last Saturday by the Appeal-Democrat's Eric Vodden, county 
officials seemed to be saying they understood there could be a 
problem with the rule, as it stands, but it's unclear whether they'll 
do something about it. They should.

We appreciate what they've done. Last spring, they passed a stricter 
set of ordinances concerning the cultivation of medical marijuana to 
deal with a number of growers who were gaming (some flagrantly) the old rules.

It's good they want to get it under control and hold those who are 
breaking the law accountable. No matter that the supervisors wanted 
to toughen up the laws  they still need to be fair. And as it stands, 
at present, property owners, whether they're within sight of their 
rental property and whether they know something illegal is being 
done, are subject to fines. And big fines  $100 per day per violation 
from the time they're cited (and each individual plant is considered 
a violation). Landowners can be subject to tens of thousands in fines.

"That is an issue, which we acknowledge is an issue," said John 
Vacek, Yuba County deputy county counsel. The problem, he says, is 
some landowners don't tell the truth. Cases were cited where it was 
believed the landlords were in cahoots with tenants or were using tenants.

That could very well be. But just as likely, often enough, landlords 
are clueless until code enforcement informs them. Perhaps they should 
be held accountable for their actions once they've clearly been 
informed of the problem, but before?

Since the supervisors approved the tougher restrictions  which ban 
outdoor growing and limit indoor plants to a dozen in a qualified 
accessory structure  there have been numerous code enforcement 
complaints and responses. Since June 1, Yuba County has imposed 
penalties for 4,472 plants on 93 properties. Penalties totaling 
$440,000 have been assessed, though the county has collected only 
about $40,000, according to the report.

At present, as the new laws are written, there's nothing that allows 
the code enforcement personnel any discretion to cite or not cite, 
differentiating between property owners who condone cannabis growing 
and those who are unaware of it. So they have to stick to the law and 
assess fines. Then the landowners can bring their cases before 
supervisors to appeal to their sense of fairness.

There are legal restrictions about how much a landlord can do in 
terms of monitoring tenant behavior. But landlords can also show they 
went to some trouble to check backgrounds of tenants and can use 
language in rental agreements about how pot growing is not allowed. 
Still, a landlord wouldn't necessarily know if it were happening.

Supervisors should consider revising that part of the ordinance and 
either give code enforcement discretion, or simply notify landlords 
once violations are cited and then fine them if they continue to do nothing.

Be tough, but be fair.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom