Council member wants code compliance to pay for mistakes

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman wants the city’s code enforcement to pay up when they make a mistake. Sometimes code compliance cases go to court, and even if a citizen wins the case, they still wind up paying the court costs.

Take Matthew Palmer for example. He has been battling the city’s code department over a fence on his property. Palmer built the fence around his RV that is parked on the side of his home after a neighbor filed a complaint with the city. An Austin code inspector initially gave Palmer the OK.

“[The fence] is what I was instructed to build,” Palmer said.

Months later he took the fence down to do some work on the RV and the neighbor complained again. But when Palmer put the fence back up, a different code enforcement officer had a problem with it.

“When I explained to him that the previous case had been closed by a supervisor, he said, ‘Well that’s not my supervisor,'” Palmer said.

The case eventually went to municipal court and a jury determined Palmer wasn’t guilty of the violations, but a code compliance official says this case still might not be over.

“The jury found him not guilty, but we think there still needs to be some modifications in order to meet the requirements of the code,” said Carl Smart, director of the Austin Code Department.

But Zimmerman wants a new ordinance to hold code compliance more accountable.

“Matthew Palmer’s fence case is not isolated,” said Zimmerman. “There needs to be some sanction that would give code compliance incentive to be more careful; don’t let these things go to court. If you do go to court and it turns out you’re wrong, you need to take an impact on your budget.”

Palmer had to spend thousands for attorney fees and other costs.

“There’s no way for a citizen to get their money back if it goes this far,” said Palmer.

He hopes city council can make a change. Zimmerman hopes to get the item through committee and to the full council by next month.

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