Responding to Humboldt County Nuisance and Abatement Actions

Humboldt County Code Enforcement Unit is currently sending notices of violation and proposed administrative civil penalty notices to landowners based upon satellite imaging.  The notices order the recipients to correct or otherwise remedy the violation within 10 calendar days or risk fines of $10,000 per day. 
 
If you receive one of these notices please immediately contact an attorney to preserve your rights.
 
Below is a brief list of some of the issues a landowner should consider after receiving a notice of nuisance and abatement.  
  1. Service:  The notices are often posted somewhere on the subject property and certified letters are being sent by mail as well as notices being published in the local newspaper.  Oftentimes the method of notice may not be sufficient and could fail to comply with Due Process.  Each notice should be reviewed for a determination of whether it is sufficient.
  2. Response:  Assuming notice is sufficient, the recipient is given ten days to contest the action.  It is important to timely respond and request a hearing. 
  3. Challenging Nuisance Determination:  Many of the notices to abate are based upon images of greenhouses in which Code Enforcement assumes cultivation of cannabis is occurring.  You have the right to challenge such assumptions.  Additionally, many of the notices assume grading has occurred or occurred without the proper permits.  Again, it is important to challenge any false assumptions and responding timely helps preserve your right to do so.
  4. Abatement.  The County states that the corrective action must be “commenced, prosecuted, and completed” within 10 calendar days.  This is not what the code states.  Humboldt County Code section 352-5 states that the court or Code Enforcement Unit shall provide the responsible party with a reasonable amount of time, not to exceed ten (10) calendar days “to correct or otherwise remedy” prior to the imposition of the administrative civil penalty, except in situations in which the Violation creates an immediate danger to the health, safety, and/or general welfare of the public.   The nuisance and abatement process is intended to have any nuisances remedied by the private citizen rather than the government.  Most of the alleged nuisances can be timely remedied, which prohibits the government from charging a civil penalty for failing to abate.  Some nuisances require permits and landowners can timely apply for those permits and assert reasonable conduct in pursuing those permits as a defense to a nuisance action even if the permit is not issued within ten (10) days.  There are multiple companies locally who can help landowners timely remedy any alleged nuisances. 
  5. Challenging Fine Amounts:  The notices state that if corrective action is not commenced, prosecuted and completed within ten (10) calendar days after service of this Notice of Violation and Proposed Administrative Civil Penalty, a daily administrative fee of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00) will be imposed for a period of up to ninety (90) calendar days pursuant to Humboldt County Code section 352-5.  The Code Enforcement Unit misquotes Humboldt County Code section 352-5.  It does not provide for $10,000 fines per day if the corrective action is not commenced, prosecuted, and completed within ten (10) calendar days.  The code section provides for penalties of “up to” $10,000 per day.  A fact finder could find that the appropriate fine, if any, could be as low as $1 per day.  Prior cases show that an assessment needs to be made regarding the action and the party’s ability to pay when assessing the reasonableness of a fine.  Any fine of $10,000 per day would likely be challenged as excessive and a comparison of other county codes would support this claim.
Humboldt County Code Enforcement will often present landowners with compliance agreements which require the landowner to pay tens of thousands of dollars and take corrective actions.  For many landowners, such compliance agreements are not necessary and result in excessive payments.  The notices of violation can and should be challenged on multiple grounds.
 
As set forth above, it is important to timely respond to a notice of violation.  There are multiple options available to landowners which may be more beneficial than simply signing a compliance agreement.  It is also important to remember that statements made to Code Enforcement could be used against you later, in either the nuisance action or a criminal action.
 
If you have any questions please feel free to contact our office for a consultation. 

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