21 Sep Richmond to Take a Closer Look at Some Properties With Problems
(Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / Richmond Pulse)
By Samantha Kennedy
In an effort to clean up the city, the Richmond City Council voted to levy special assessments against certain properties at its Tuesday meeting.
The council voted 6-0 in favor of the resolution, with council member Melvin Willis absent.
Between May 2022 and April 2023, code enforcement fines and costs for properties in Richmond totaled nearly $400,000. Property owners receive fines for nuisance abatement, which can include garbage or vegetation removal, foreclosure ordinance fines and administration citations.
Properties that are an owner’s primary residence will be removed from the levy list to be investigated further.
Eva Mann, Richmond’s code enforcement manager, said that staff typically tends to properties that have accumulated garbage or abandoned vehicles that need to be towed. She said that, in cases where buildings are vacant, staff cleans and boards up the building.
Mann said 80 properties were initially subject to fees incurred, but that number was reduced to 74 after some protested and others paid their fees.
Several council members said they were concerned with the possibility of vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities and older people, being harmed by the levy placed on property owners’ bills.
Council member Claudia Jimenez asked what payment options are available for owners who are not able to pay the fine in full.
Lina Velasco, director of community development, said there are several opportunities for owners to have their unique financial situation taken into account. Late fees, for example, can be waived in certain situations.
But remedies like these often are done early on to avoid things like a levy against a property. And, once a levy is placed on the property, the city can no longer work out something like a payment plan because it is in the hands of the county assessor.
Council member Doria Robinson said she was especially worried about properties that are an owner’s primary residence.
“Before putting liens on someone’s primary residence, can we just do more due diligence on what’s going on?” she asked.
Velasco said there is a lot of due diligence happening in the code enforcement department. First, owners are given notice of a violation. Then, administrative citations, which often prompt a reaction from owners, are issued. Violations pile up, though, and staff receive complaints due to violations not being fixed.
Some owners said their disability prevented them from maintaining their property.
One man said he was unable to make the requested changes by the city because of his disability. Even after being told by staff that he did not need to make those changes, he was fined. He said he would have to take out a loan.
“Please help me,” he asked the council. “Tell them to leave me alone. Just let me live. That’s all I want.”
Another property owner said he also experienced receiving false information from city staff which resulted in fines.
Yar Mohamed, who rented out his property, said his tenant asked city staff if he needed a permit to place his construction equipment on his property. After being told on three separate occasions that he did not need a permit, he was fined. Over $5,000 in fines have accumulated on that property,
Robinson said it was not the first time city staff gave out incorrect information and asked what was being done to remedy those situations.
Mann said further investigation into those situations would need to happen to figure out what happened and what solution to come to.
Velasco said property owners who protested, including those who spoke at the meeting, are taken off the levy list and will be further investigated. Cases that involve disabilities that can be verified with a doctor are not investigated.
However, owners are still responsible for fees incurred on violations.
Mayor Eduardo Martinez acknowledged Mann’s compassion for city residents and suggested, along with other council members, to put something in place that treated everyone in these situations equally.
Jimenez said primary residences should be removed from the levy list to see if there are special circumstances that are preventing owners from appealing or paying fines.
“A lot of things can happen,” Robinson said. “It’s just humane.”
Council member Soheila Bana asked why the city should spend more time and energy on investigating owners who have not responded to notices or fines.
“We should focus on those who appealed,” she said. “And make sure the appeal process is fair.”
Staff will come back to the council to request levies on more properties with outstanding fees. Properties that are removed from the list can appear on it again.