It took years of legal battles but a California man's effort has paid off, and his attorney says it's a win for property owners throughout the state.
In 2009, Tom Lippman was charged more than $12,000 in fees for alleged building code violations at his rental property in Oakland.
State law requires that a property owner be allowed an appeal before a neutral and fair arbiter. However, Lippman's attorneys at Pacific Legal Foundation say their client was only given the option to ask the inspector to rescind the $12,000 judgment.
Failing that, Lippman could ask the supervisor to reconsider.
"Things got so bad in Oakland that the Alameda County grand jury actually issued a report condemning the building code's practice,” says PLF attorney Jonathan Wood, who is representing Lippman.
Wood further alleges that the city had "created an atmosphere of hostility towards property owners and was violating rights throughout the county and throughout the city.”
Wood says the city established a new appeals process in response to the grand jury report condemning the city's behavior. But that process, unfortunately, is no better than the earlier abusive process, he insists.
According to Pacific Legal Foundation, Lippman was allowed to appeal his case only to an officer selected by the enforcement agency from among its former employees.
"The officer basically rubber-stamped the $12,000 that had been taken from [Lippman]," says Wood. "He tried to present his case for why he was not in violation of the building code. The officer interrupted him and told him that he would be given a chance to speak at the end, but then canceled the hearing without ever giving him a moment to speak."
Despite that treatment, the City of Oakland insisted that was the only process Lippman was entitled to.
The case eventually made its way to the California Court of Appeals, which ruled in Lippman's favor just before Christmas.
"The City of Oakland will have a chance if it wishes to ask the California Supreme Court to review this case, but I think that is extremely unlikely,” Wood says. "It was a unanimous decision and this is a court that is usually sympathetic to government agencies.”