Chief Building Official, Mayor Clarifies Code Enforcement Change
A slight modification in the City of Sedalia's Code Enforcement has apparently stirred up quite a bit of controversy, according to Mayor Andrew Dawson.
On Monday night, Council approved an amendment to Ordinance 11490, which concerns the requirements for an administrative search warrant.
“We weren't exactly clear on what that modification was, and so there's been a lot of misconceptions about what it was, so we'd like to dispel those,” Mayor Dawson said Thursday morning at the Municipal Building, 2nd and Osage.
“The original search warrant ordinance that was passed in December of 2021, required that 'the owner or occupant of the property or place to be searched or inspected, or the thing to be seized has refused to allow same after official request by the appropriate officers or employees of the City,' so basically that meant that I had to be refused access before I could apply for an administrative search warrant,” Lake explained.
“So now it alleviates having to be refused, that's not part of the state statute,” Lake said. “Refusal is not required.”
The Mayor added that “from an efficiency standpoint, what would happen is you would mobilize equipment and people, things that me and you and everyone else are paying for through our taxes. They would show up, (the homeowner) refuses access, then we end up standing around waiting on an administrative search warrant to be issued. That could be a matter of hours for the judge to go in and review the facts, then decide if we have access to this property or not?” he said.
“So it cuts down on a lot of waste, where we don't have people standing around waiting to get in and do their job,” Mayor Dawson explained.
“We already do not like filling in and having to clean up other people's property, we don't want to be cutting their grass, we don't want to be having to move cars, because it's costly for the City, and that costs me, and that costs you, that costs everybody who's paying taxes. The ultimate goal of code enforcement is voluntary compliance. But, there are cases where we have to go in, and that voluntary compliance isn't happening. We have to remedy the situation, for the neighbors, the property values and even the property values of the owner of that property,” the Mayor said.
Mayor Dawson noted that a completely new website for the City is coming soon, “and part of that is, I would like to see links to the International Property Maintenance Code on there.”
Lake, when asked what the top three common violations are in Sedalia, she replied “grass (in season), trash and vehicles.”
Does her office respond to those types of violations every week?
“Oh, absolutely,” Lake said, adding that she has a total of five code enforcement officers working in her office.
“We were actually guided in this direction by Lauber (law firm). It's a way to get compliance if we absolutely have to,” Lake told KSIS, adding that “but we want voluntary complaince.”
Mayor Dawson noted that there are other cities that have that process in place, such as Greenwood. “There are other cities that are making use of that administrative search warrant. And that process protects makes sure that the homeowners' fourth amendment and their due process is all preserved,” Dawson noted.
Lake emphasized that “we are not complaint-driven, we are proactive, so each code enforcement officer has their own area in town that they drive and look for issues,” she said.
“The first step is to write a violation letter, and we issue that to either the property owner, or the property owner and the tenant, depending on if it's a landlord-tenant situation, or if it's owner-occupied. The letter states that they have 10 days to correct the violation. Of course, if they call and have communication with us, and let us know what their plan of action is, we're going to work with them,” Lake said.
“Communication is key,” she stressed. “We try to be very approachable and work with people as much as we can. But in those situations where we just cannot get compliance, this is the tool that we can use to help.”
The good news is, an administrative search warrant is used as a last resort.
“Some of the steps we take, after the violation letter, if we can't get communication and we can't get compliance, the next step is to issue a citation, to go to Municipal Court. There are some situations where they don't show up to court, and then this (the administrative search warrant) would be the absolute last resort,” Lake explained.
“I only did two last year,” Lake noted.
“And we have resources, that, if they contact us, we can get them in contact with other resources to help them if they need assistance,” Lake said.
Lake noted that once a search warrant is applied for, she is required to provide a search warrant return, which documents anything that is taken during the process.
For example, if Code Enforcement tows a vehicle, Lake will turn in the tow sheet to the judge to let him know what was taken from the property, Lake explained. “And the owner receives that as well.”
“It can either be by personal service, or I can mail it,” Lake stated, adding that she would use certified mail in that situation to document that she did mail it.