3 Instances of Cities Fining Private Homeowners Huge Fines
A home is a man’s castle, or so the old saying goes. When you own your own home, you come to expect a reasonable amount of privacy and autonomy. But sometimes homeowners can incur the wrath of the local City Hall for various transgressions such as cutting down trees, renting out your house or not maintaining your property.
When City Hall gets angry, you better believe the fines will be massive (and in some cases very unfair to the homeowners). Here are three examples of City Hall throwing the full might and weight of local government upon the home owner:
A Little Maintenance Racks Up a Huge Fine
Glendale, California is an old-money neighborhood known best for their mature trees and scenic city blocks. Homeowners Ann and Mike Collard received a letter in the mail from the Glendale Fire Department stating that the branches on the trees were too close to their home. The Fire Department wanted them to maintain 5 feet of vertical clearance between the trees and roof structure.
So, like any good citizen would do, Ann and Mike hired a tree trimmer to assess the job and provide a quote. They paid the tree trimmer $3,000 to trim the trees and were assured by both the Fire Department and the tree trimmer that they were in the legal right to do so.
As the trees were being trimmed, the city’s “urban forester” happened to walk by and had a panic attack when she saw the workers cutting branches off. She went back to City Hall and they levied a $347,000 fine against the Collards for trimming the trees. Only after negative media attention (and a lawyer) did the City of Glendale, California agree to lower the fine.
$1.6m Fine for Removing Trees
How do you improve the value of your multi-million dollar house? All you need to do is cut down a few trees to improve the view. This is what the city of Seattle alleges that residents of a West Seattle neighborhood did recently. An adjacent greenbelt had 150 trees that the city alleges were illegally removed by local homeowners.
The city doesn’t know how many homeowners were involved, as the lawsuit names up to 30 “John and Jane Does”.
The residents have since lawyered up and are now beginning the long fight with City Hall as to who’s responsible and who will wind up being on the hook for $1.6 million dollars. The city alleges that felony charges may be filed if information in court comes to light that names other parties.
Air BnB Fines
Technology and the internet has helped change the way we live for the better. It has also helped create a cottage industry of people renting their houses out on Air BnB. Most city governments have ordinances in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening. They say that it ruins the quality of life for the neighbors of houses listed on Air BnB and is unfair competition for the local hotels and motels who have to pay city taxes upon their revenues.
There is a subset of people who rent out expensive houses, and then sublease them on Air BnB. One person rented a house in San Francisco for $7,000/mo. and then turned around and made $20,000/mo. after listing it on Air BnB.
The problem arises when the city finds out about the Air BnB rentals which break city law. The law states that the homeowner is on the hook for any fines. So if the tenant rents out the house, but does not inform the homeowner, the tenant gets off scott-free while the homeowner is on the hook for thousands of dollars in fines.