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Thursday, July 11, 2013

City Must Establish Ownership to Enforce Vacant Property Ordinance

In City of Virginia v. Mitchell, the City of Virginia had brought an ordinance enforcement action against defendant for failure to register his property under the vacant property ordinance and for violations of the City's nuisance and property maintenance ordinance.  The defendant challenged the lawsuit, claiming that he was not the owner during the time period of the alleged code violations.  The trial court found the defendant in violation of the City ordinances, but the appellate court reversed, ruling that the City failed to prove by a "clear preponderance of the evidence" that the defendant owned the property. 
The appellate court emphasized that because municipal building code violations are quasi-criminal proceedings, the City must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a property owner violated the relevant ordinance.  In this case, the defendant established that he had conveyed the property by quitclaim deed to another individual immediately after receiving notices of violation from the City, but before the City actually filed its complaint.  Because the owner did not own the property at the time the code enforcement lawsuit was filed, he was not liable for the code violations.  


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