A number of local business owners and private residents have reported their concerns to the Plumas County Planning Department over code violations they see in Chester and other areas of Plumas County, which in some cases has resulted in lower property values as well as safety concerns.
According to one business owner and long-term Chester resident who wishes to remain anonymous, a family member living in a nearby subdivision has been troubled by a particularly haphazard construction that she believes is in clear violation of county building codes.
As a homeowner, she noted the subdivision still has a few empty parcels awaiting construction, but at least one of the undeveloped lots is already occupied.
“My mother noticed that for over three years, someone has set up a travel trailer on one of the vacant lots, along with an abandoned vehicle, a storage-type shed and a lean-to, along with an accumulation of trash and other debris strewn about. … And he seems to be living there without the proper permits,” she said, according to one official she’s talked to at the planning department.
The official shared with her that the property in question does have an electric meter, but told her he has yet to verify whether or not he is connected to the city’s water and sewer lines.
“Somebody bought the lot, but it looks like a homeless encampment,” she said. “When I spoke with the building department about that particular lot, I was told there is no active building permit recorded and no set of construction plans in the works.”
A number of the neighbors have also been verbal about their home values plummeting since the person moved onto the land three years ago, she claimed.
Worse still, she asserted that none of the houses can be sold because local Realtors have told everyone no one wants to live near the trash-laden property located within the subdivision.
“In this neighborhood, homes in previous years were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and now no one can find a buyer.”
She said it seems like these types of code violations fall through the cracks, whether it’s illegal camping, substandard construction or an abandoned house that has been broken into and damaged.
“My concern is that the county is not enforcing its codes,” she said, to the detriment of the people who have spent huge amounts of money to purchase their homes.
“I filed a formal complaint on behalf of several residences, including my family member, in December of 2017 with the Plumas County Code Enforcement division, but so far I have seen no action from the county.”
Chuck White, director of Building Services for Plumas County, stated he is well aware of the situation.
Currently, Plumas County doesn’t have a code compliance officer, he revealed, a position that remains vacant after the previous code compliance officer left.
“Until I am able to get the position filled, which hopefully will be immediately after the board of supervisors approves the updated job description at their Feb. 6 meeting, I can hire someone,” he explained, and work on reducing the backlog of cases. It may still take a few weeks however, he added, until a new employee can be hired.
In the meantime, White said he has been doing his best, trying to work on the growing backlog of complaints on a number of properties throughout Plumas County, adding that he must prioritize what cases he can handle, given that he is understaffed.
There are a number of old cases that need to be addressed that go back quite a ways, he admitted, but for the time being he can only handle high-priority hazardous health and safety code complaints. Unfortunately, all other complaints will have to wait until the compliance officer position is refilled at a later date.
“I’ve been working on a number of code violations on my own, as my time allows after fulfilling my normal duties,” said White. “In cases wherever the violation is creating an imminent danger to public safety or to the environment like a sewer back up — things of that nature — I act on it right away.”
White explained that in order to build a structure on a property, the owner must first secure a building permit and other requirements, and go through the planning and building department to make sure the property is properly zoned for what the owner wishes to do with his or her parcel.
If someone is not in code, White said they could expect a Notice of Noncompliance, sent by certified letter, or in some cases served directly by the code compliance officer. In that notice would be a list of all the violations, and the owner would be given a timeframe to make corrections.
While it is the Code Enforcement’s commitment to work cooperatively with property owners, failure to comply with a Notice of Noncompliance to correct violations may result in the issuing of an Administrative Citation, which includes the levying of a fine for each ordinance violation.
In the most severe cases unpaid fines can go to liens on properties and/or Notice to Abate that could involve the county cleaning up the property at the owner’s expense.
“It is never the preferable path to compliance to go this route,” White said. “That’s why every effort is exhausted to achieve compliance before proceeding further.”
Depending on the zoning, in certain districts the property owner is allowed to camp on the property for up to 120 days in an RV or trailer, for instance, while the home is in the process of being built, but White noted that other zones don’t allow any camping whatsoever.
“My recollection is that in the area under discussion, camping for any amount of time is not permitted, but given we’re in a rural area — providing they don’t take too long too build — we’ve typically not strictly enforced the no camping ban if we feel the building period is not going to extend beyond more than a year; that a permit is on file, and the RV is being used in an integral way to facilitate the construction of the primary structure.”
Code enforcement is a complaint-driven process. To have a complaint investigated, complete and sign the violation complaint form by going to the Plumas County website countyofplumas.com, and go to Departments A-F, scroll down to Code Enforcement and download a copy of the complaint form from the link on the code enforcement page dropdown menu; print and fill it out and email it to [email protected], or bring it to the building department in person at 555 Main St., Quincy, or fax it to: 283-6134. Residents can also type in Code Violations in the search window to find the link to the complaint form.
Phone complaints are only accepted when the complaint is determined by the building official to be a hazardous health and safety issue requiring immediate action. Anonymous complaints are not accepted, but the person filing the complaint may choose to have their identity kept confidential by checking the appropriate box on the complaint form.