Only certain cities relax code enforcement during pandemic

Investigations

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — As the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the economy, even a code violation could be crippling for some.

With court hearings and evictions on hold, a number of people asked if city code inspectors would continue to issue citations.

One woman told KXAN she was slapped with a warning by the city of Jonestown because she lives in an RV on the property she owns.

She says it’s only temporary until she can make repairs to the house that was damaged by flooding in 2018.

The notice, dated March 24, threatens a fine of up to $2,000 per day after 10 days of noncompliance.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, pitch a tent? I mean, where am I going to go?” she said.

KXAN later got answers from City Manager Steve Jones, who said enforcement deadlines have been extended “until the COVID-19 orders are lifted and people can resume normal life.”

KXAN reached out to several of the largest central Texas cities to see how their code enforcement procedures have changed in response to the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Travis County, which includes Jonestown, includes code enforcement as “essential government.”

The City of Austin says it is continuing to do inspections regarding violations of Austin’s property maintenance, abatement, and land use codes. 

Austin Code Enforcement logged more than 300 complaints the last three days, according to data from the city’s website.

San Marcos Code Compliance Manager Shanna O’Brien said her department has see a clear reduction in the number of complaints it has received in the past several weeks. San Marcos’ code department is currently only addressing more serious or imminent health and safety violations, such as:

  • On-site sewage system facility malfunctions
  • Sewer breaks, water contamination, cross contamination
  • Unsafe structures, such as fire hazards or structures in imminent danger of collapse
  • Foodborne illness outbreaks (environmental health)

For any of the above-mentioned violations, the city may issue citations.

“For all other nuisance violations, we are leaving courtesy reminders and not making in-person contact with folks to practice social distancing best practices.  We have a great database to find phone numbers and have reached out via phone to many residents,” O’Brien said. “San Marcos is not issuing citations for minor code violations at this time.”

City of Pflugerville spokesperson Terri Toledo said the city has not changed its code enforcement procedures in the wake of the coronavirus.

“We are keeping a watch out for needs of our businesses and residents that may arise, but have not seen a need for any changes at this time,” Toledo said.

Round Rock spokesperson Will Hampton said his city has not waived or reduced fees. The code department is, however, offering resources to owners to address infractions or problems without the issuance of a formal violation and allowing extra time to fix issues.

“In short, our Code Enforcement team is offering maximum flexibility during this time in an effort to avoid the issuance of a formal violation, when warranted,” Hampton said.

Round Rock’s code department is offering limited enforcement on rules for temporary sign installation in restaurants and private property. The code department will also help restaurant owners get temporary signs quickly without application fees or strict enforcement on size and placement.

Round Rock residents and business owners can contact Community Engagement Administrator, Joe Brehm, at (512) 341-3148 to discuss hardship, concerns and options for code issues.

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