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Code Enforcement: "We Did What We Could With Problem Property"

After Patch runs a story about a Novato drug house, city staff defend their actions, but say they could only do so much if owner in jail or not complying with notices

Stock image
Stock image

On Monday, we wrote about a neighborhood on San Marin Drive that was terrorized by a drug house, a place where visitors would come and go day and night, dogs barked at all hours and trash piled up around the property. In the story, one of the neighbors criticized the city of Novato’s code enforcement, saying it should have done more to clean up the blight.

Now code enforcement has responded to the criticism, echoing what the police department has already said.

“Unfortunately, if a home is owner-occupied, Code Enforcement cannot require the owner to clean the inside of the home--however we can, and did, intervene regarding the outside of the property,” Gary Beretta, supervising code enforcement supervisor told Novato Patch.

“In 2009, after the first complaint, the resident did clean up by the front walk. And again in 2010. In 2010 a neighbor complained about trash and debris in the back/side yard. We took the appropriate action: attempted to contact the owner by mail and post the property. However, if the owner is in jail, and the banks have not started the foreclosure process, we are limited in what action we can take.

“Additionally, in 2010 the rear and side yard was cleaned up by a two member volunteer team... Due process may seem slow to the folks that lived next to the home, but we do have to follow the law. When we were made aware of electrical 'by-passes' and or electricity/gas were turned off due to non-payment, the property was posted with the appropriate placard. (LIMITED ENTRY, yellow, or NO ENTRY, red) Admittedly, if no one answers the door at these times, it may appear we are not doing anything. We also spoke with the Homeowner’s Association/CCR and were told there wasn't anything they could do either as there was no way to contact the owner.”

What’s YOUR take? Have you ever had to deal with Novato’s Code Enforcement and how was your problem handled? Share your experience in the comments below.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 06, 2013 at 07:25 PM
"We also spoke with the Homeowner’s Association/CCR and were told there wasn't anything they could do either as there was no way to contact the owner.” If the owner was in jail, then he is the easiest person in the county to contact! Am I missing something here?
Sam December 06, 2013 at 09:51 PM
Jerome, How do you know the owner was in a Marin Jail for starters ? Maybe the house come into his possession during the Jail time .
Concerned Citizen December 07, 2013 at 10:30 AM
It seems the HOA should have taken action to protect those in the association. Isn't that what dues are for? If the owner was no longer financially responsible then they or the Bank should have been made to step in and either clean up or expedite the foreclosure process. I'm sure there must be laws on the books for creating a public nuisance that the City attorney/police could have tried to enforce. All in all we have to coexist with one another. If not possible as it appears in this case then more extraordinary actions are appropriate. btw I have found Gary Beretta to be conscientious, caring and fair. If there was anything else available to help he would have done so.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 07, 2013 at 10:47 AM
@Sam, the article is poorly written but seems to imply that the owner was in jail. Grammar is no longer politically correct.
Lou Judson December 07, 2013 at 11:34 AM
I am getting really tired of the stock images on Patch. An inaccurate and inapporpriate image does nothing to enhance the article. I'd rather see plain text than a misleading image. Or even an iphone picture of the actual location! I know, Karina, that you have not much budget for real Journalism and photography, but do your corporate masters allow you to NOT post a picture if there isn't one that even vaguely resemblres a San Marin neighborhood house? Like this: <http://goo.gl/maps/EAJbV>
Paul laPerriere December 07, 2013 at 12:36 PM
Regarding the Homeowners Association and their governing documents. I'm not sure we're getting the complete story. I live in a neighborhood with an HOA and there are clearly provisions available to the Board to step in if there are "exterior" maintenance issues in most if not all HOA's in Ca. After following the proper due diligence ( i.e. Violation letters, hearing,etc.) the HOA can enter the property to remedy the problems if the owner does not take action. The catch of course is it would be at the HOA's expense, followed by a property assessment.....may not recoup. As far as the comment at the end of the story that the HOA couldn't do anything because they could reach the owner. You don't need to reach the owner. All you need to do is mail violations, etc. to the address that the owner provided the HOA. So wether the owner is in jail or lives elsewhere is immaterial. Again, my guess is we only have part of the story. Finally, the moral of the story is to push for changes to Code Enforcement laws. They're obviously completely ineffective.
Sam December 07, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Wow some of you posters on the law are so far off that one can tell you have nothing to say but need to say something.
Michelle D December 07, 2013 at 02:15 PM
“Have you ever had to deal with Novato’s Code Enforcement and how was your problem handled? Share your experience in the comments below.” : Yes, I have been trying to work with the Novato Code Enforcement Agency for over 13 years. For years I have been plagued with garbage from a neighbor and for years I received a whole lot of ‘ shoo fly shoo’. LINK to conditions uploaded on a photo hosting site : https://picasaweb.google.com/DeviantDeziner/GarbageConditions On one occasion when asked to see their file on my case ( to verify their follow through actions) I was told by Jack Needling, code enforcement employee - “ Go see a judge for a court order to see your file”. That’s the kind of assistance that I have experienced. Just last week when asked to have one of the zoning’s code interpreted I was sent a “Planning Application Form” that requested a $ 225.00 fee . I have found the Code Enforcement department to be arbitrary in the way they pick and choose to enforce their ordinances. They have even given themselves discretion to interpret their own ordinances to suit their needs by giving themselves entitlement in their ordinance : 19.02 Interpretation of Zoning Title Provisions. "Authority. The zoning administrator shall have the responsibility and authority to interpret the meaning and applicability of all provisions and requirements of this title." and    "Whenever the zoning administrator determines that the meaning or applicability of any of the requirements of this title are subject to interpretation generally, or as applied to a specific case, the zoning administrator may issue an official interpretation."  Others in my neighborhood have had the same experience. So when queried by the Patch what department should be cut from the city, I would suggest the Code Enforcement because they don’t seem to be doing a very satisfactory job.
Linda December 07, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Michelle, Novato Code Enforcement Agency in this city of Novato is top of the line . I have called them for a problem and it was taken care of within three days. I can tell You talk through your ars by reading your phoney post
HistoryLover December 07, 2013 at 09:21 PM
My family back east heard about the "Novato Drug House that the city did nothing about..." Must have made the national media, too. Not helping our image.
Michelle D December 08, 2013 at 02:24 PM
Dear Linda, You may have had a different experience from me and some of my neighbors, but I wrote about my experience and what others in my neighborhood have experienced. - Keep it civil please. If you want to check the facts please feel free to call me or come by my home so that I can show you the file that I have that relates to the ongoing problem. Michelle Derviss 1408 Park Avenue, 892-3121. I assure you, there is nothing phoney or fictional about about my post and the experience that I have had with the Novato Code Enforcement Agency.

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