Marcus Larson/News-Register ## View of the Hendricks Road property in Carlton that became a unique solid waste nuisance case when the property owner died but people living in RVs there remained.
Marcus Larson/News-Register ## View of the Hendricks Road property in Carlton that became a unique solid waste nuisance case when the property owner died but people living in RVs there remained.
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Mike Kemper: Justice slow but sure in nuisance cases

 

As sole code enforcement officer for Yamhill County, I’ve been tasked since July 2012 with enforcing the county’s building, zoning and waste disposal ordinances.

But I’m allowed to respond to complaints lodged only by the public. I’m not authorized to go out looking for violations. And reaching a satisfactory resolution can prove very challenging and time-consuming.

Guest Writer

Mike Kemper began his career with an eight-year tour in the U.S. Air Force, where he earned a degree in fire science and signed on with a firefighting team. After leaving the service, he spent 22 years with the city of Salem, serving by turns as a 911 dispatcher, code enforcement officer and housing rehab specialist. He was named code enforcement officer in Yamhill County in July 2012.

Here’s how the process plays out when a complaint is filed:

First, I make a site visit to determine whether a violation has, in fact, occurred. If I determine it has, I collect evidence, develop findings and make my case to our code enforcement team.

If the code team agrees, I attempt to contact the property owner to discuss the issues. My goal in this process is not to issue a citation, but to secure voluntary compliance.

The next step is issuance of a correction letter, representing the first step in enforcement if voluntary compliance is not achieved.

The letter details the violation(s), citing the underlying code or ordinance. It typically demands correction within 30 days.

If compliance is still not achieved in the stated period, a follow-up letter is mailed. Depending on the property owner and the circumstances, it could include a pre-citation warning, advising the property owner he could be subject to a fine.

These are civil rather than criminal citations. The initial presumptive fine is $150, but that could escalate over time.

The defendant must appear in court. If he opts to contest the citation, trial is typically scheduled within 30 to 60 days.

The vast majority of code violations I deal with do not end up in court. I am usually able to obtain voluntary compliance short of a trial.

I make every effort to work with property owners to ensure they resolve the initial issue and not raise new ones. At times, it may require lengthy extensions of time to gain compliance.

This is due to a variety of reasons, including the magnitude of the problem and scope of the solution. Each case is judged on its own merits.

Our office is more likely to provide additional time if the property owner is making good progress and maintaining regular communication with us.  

Then there are the difficult cases, ones in which extenuating circumstances defy easy resolution. These cases typically get the most public scrutiny and generate the most public frustration.

I recently dealt with a property owner just outside Yamhill. Our office had received a large number of complaints from affected neighbors about an accumulation of trailers and debris.

The owner was issued a series of correction letters for violations of land use and solid waste violations, but refused to cooperate.

I eventually had to file an affidavit in support of the issuance of a search and inspection warrant in Yamhill County Circuit Court. I next had to serve that warrant, with the assistance of the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, to collect photographic evidence documenting the magnitude of the violations.

I followed up by attempting to serve a pair of civil infraction citations on the property owner. However, the owner, aware of what was in the offing, managed to evade service for several weeks.

Once the owner had finally been personally served, he offered a series of excuses as justification for delays, further frustrating the process.  Eventually, he was found guilty on both counts and assessed the maximum fine of $720 per offense, or $1,440 in total.

At this point, the violations still existed on the property. He had taken no steps to resolve them.

That forced us to seek court authorization, through an injunction, to have the property cleaned up at the owner’s expense. There is rarely a need for this step, but there was in this case.

The county was able to obtain the injunction and commission a cleanup. However, the process took more than two years to complete.

In this case, neighbors remained very vigilant. They took the time to appear in court for all the hearings.

I really appreciated the continued patience and support shown by these neighbors during the long, slow process of gaining compliance.

Another protracted code enforcement case has been playing out in recent months at 7351 N.E. Hendricks Road, outside Carlton.

I first received notice of violations of the county’s RV siting and solid waste ordinances in May 2018. But it took me a great deal of time just to make contact with the then-property owner, Rodger Schneider.

I repeatedly sought permission to inspect his property and he repeatedly refused. So once again, I had to draft an affidavit in support of issuance of an administrative inspection warrant.

After obtaining the warrant, I had to arrange service through the sheriff’s office to serve the warrant. That took until Aug. 7.

Schneider was cited into court of an Oct. 23 hearing, but failed to show up. He was found guilty of both charges, but was later discovered dead at his residence, muddying the legal waters and leading to further delays.

In the meantime, a number of otherwise homeless individuals had moved into RVs parked near the original residence, which burned in late December. They were often referred to as squatters, but were legally considered holdover tenants, because Schneider acknowledged before his death having invited at least some of them to set up camp on his property.

Through a time-consuming search, I was able to locate relatives of Schneider’s in New Mexico. They hired a local attorney to see the property through probate.

The heirs issued eviction letters to the campers late last year. Each of the campers acknowledged to me they he had received notice they were to vacate by Jan. 13.

When that didn’t happen, the heirs filed for issuance of a forcible eviction detainer.

The campers appeared in response on Jan. 29 and asked for the scheduling of a hearing so they could present an opposition case. That hearing was set for Feb. 22 in Yamhill County Circuit Court before Judge Jennifer Chapman. 

Chapman found in favor of the personal representative of the estate, Grace Snidow. She gave the defendants four days to vacate the property.

The defendants refused to leave, so attorney Steve Cox obtained a writ for their eviction.

It was carried out by the sheriff’s office on Feb. 28. However, a massive cleanup will have to be conducted before the property can be returned to normal use.

I completely understand the frustration of Hendricks Road neighbors. They tell me the campers made life miserable in the neighborhood.

I’m confident all the remaining trash and debris will be removed from the property. In the meantime, I appreciate the patience displayed by the neighbors and their continued appearances in court for relevant proceedings.

Fortunately for the county, the vast majority of complaints are quietly resolved behind the scenes. Few rise to the level of attracting this degree of public attention.