Cities and counties are charged with protecting and improving their communities through enforcing municipal codes and certain State laws. Against a backdrop of increasing public safety concerns, aging and depleting housing, and stressed local resources, public agencies’ code enforcement units are facing more complex and dangerous issues, while increasingly being looked to as a solution for a huge variety of community needs. Code enforcement is the Swiss-army tool of every public agency.
Code enforcement isn’t about punishment, collecting fines or other punitive measures. It’s about improving quality of life for members of the community – in one word: compliance. Our focus on civic improvement is in the very name of our firm.
Civica Law’s team is unrivaled, both in experience and expertise in this area of law, combining for over 100 years of experience and thousands of cases in all aspects of code enforcement. Public agencies have looked to our assistance in virtually every imaginable type of code enforcement case, from State Housing Laws, substandard and slum housing, to the array of Building Codes, drug or gang houses, illegal gambling dens or “tap-taps”, land use and zoning violations, illegal and unfair business operations, cannabis, illegal camping, and an huge variety of other issues that affect the quality of life for residents and businesses alike.
Our team has successfully litigated thousands of code enforcement-related cases through trial, writs and appeals, has literally helped write the book on code enforcement for municipalities, has written State law and been involved in published case law.
Our attorneys include ones who have worked in a variety of government functions, such as in-house city attorneys, former district attorneys, private-practice professionals and other capacities in public service. We also serve as long-time volunteers service to a variety of code enforcement groups and other public service organizations.
However, we are most proud of the impact our public service has on improving health and safety, and sometimes even saving lives, while helping each community reach its goals.
We are perhaps the code enforcement law firm most skilled at helping agencies obtain compliance without litigation, saving public agencies and their taxpayers significant money and other resources, which can be used for other local needs besides lawyers. Attorneys serving public agencies should be focused on public service, not profit, which is also why Civica Law does not have retainers or minimum billing for projects, offers flat rate programs, and focuses its expertise on helping its clients obtain compliance in the most cost-effective way.
Civica Law routinely helps cities and counties all over the State with ensuring their code enforcement practices comply with their own local codes, ever-changing State requirements, and to meet the needs of each unique community.
We bring a diverse team with proven methods to effectively, efficiently and fairly help public agencies obtain compliance with their laws, and thus, improve and protect their communities.
It’s all part of the reason Civica Law is the leading legal team in the code enforcement profession.
Receiverships are a unique and effective remedy for public agencies dealing with certain substandard and dilapidated housing issues, illegal and unfair business operations, and specific other violations of law. Public agency receiverships focus on health and safety, zoning compliance and general compliance with the law. These types of receiverships are different in their procedures and goals from other types of receiverships, such as those routinely used by banks and corporate entities. Public agency receiverships are regulated by a complex combination of statute and case law.
Civica Law’s team has industry-leading and extensive expertise in receivership actions for public agencies. When a public agency determines that a receivership may be an appropriate tool, in order to ensure the process achieves the legal compliance desired (and required), it is critical that they have attorneys assisting them who are knowledgeable and experienced in the specific laws and procedures that apply to this legal remedy, and that those attorneys have actual experience in handling the variety of cases in which a receivership may be appropriate.
Our focus in receiverships is on ensuring compliance with the law, as well as helping the public agency achieve a holistic change from a property that once endangered and blighted the community, to one that affords dignity and improvement to the occupants and neighbors. In health and safety receiverships involving multi-family housing, we have a particular expertise and focus on tenant protection laws.
Civica Law’s legal team has been involved in a multitude of receivership cases involving every conceivable issue facing a local agency for which a receivership may be a remedy, including ones that have become case law, helping provide guidance and legal clarity to public agencies.
Under State law and many municipal codes, violation of local laws is a nuisance – one that negatively affects individuals and/or many in the community. Public agencies resolve nuisances by abatement, which can include administrative abatement, civil abatement, criminal abatement, administrative or civil fines, permits, and even direct abatement by the public agency.
Civica Law’s legal team has advised and represented public agencies all over the State in all aspects of nuisance abatement, including providing training on a city’s process and State requirements, representing staff in hearings, defending appeals and writs, assisting with warrants, documentation, noticing requirements, recoupment of costs as may be allowed by law, liens, assessments and recordings.
Public agencies have many tools available to abate nuisances; it is important to have experienced legal guidance to ensure the correct tool is used correctly to ensure the agency’s goals are achieved.
Approximately 2 million Californians live in substandard housing conditions according to government data, and with the housing crisis and an aging housing stock, that number likely is understating reality. In one of the most affluent economies in the world, many Californians live in tragic insufferable conditions: lack of hot water, lack of heat, broken windows, extensive mold, non-functioning appliances like stoves, broken plumbing or sewage, etc. Some have resorted to living in places not even intended for human use, such as warehouses, abandoned dilapidated buildings, and a variety of other places.
Sometimes the substandard conditions are caused by fires, flooding or other calamities, or perhaps simple negligence, criminal activity or the lack of proper maintenance. Whatever the cause, substandard housing is unsafe, unhealthy and can lead to human tragedy and economic loss.
Cities and counties have a front-line role – and increasingly, a legal obligation – in resolving substandard housing, and a wide variety of approaches and tools to do so.
Civica Law’s team regularly advises and assists public agencies in all types of cases involving substandard housing. We do this with tried-and-true methods under State and local law, and with an expertise honed by a driving desire to improve and save the lives of those living in these conditions day after day, as well as neighbors suffering the effects. After all, fires, mold and rodent infestations don’t know property lines.
Our team is proud to have helped many cities turn around entire neighborhoods and protect their own residents. We are adept at helping agencies successfully, cost-effectively and expeditiously deal with substandard properties, including compliance with State and local tenant relocation benefit laws.
Land Use & Zoning
Civica Law’s attorneys have been in-house and contract city attorneys, have advised planning departments, planning commission and zoning administrators all over California. We are extremely experienced in land use and zoning laws, including all aspects of entitlements from a regulatory and practitioner’s standpoint. Our attorneys have assisted public agencies in complying with their own codes, State laws including CEQA, the Permit Streamlining Act, the Williamson Act, and others.
Uniquely, our experience and expertise includes advising and representing cities and counties in review hearings for a variety of permits, licenses and entitlements, including revocation or modification of CUPs, MUPs, and the like.
On occasion, we are called upon by the private sector to assist them in navigating the planning and zoning process.
Permits & Entitlements
Development of land and buildings for use requires navigating a variety of local and state regulations and laws, which can often include appeals and litigation. Civica Law’s attorneys regularly serve clients throughout the permit and entitlement process, including advisory work throughout the permit and entitlement process, planning appeals, and litigation. We have represented dozens of cities and private clients in ensuring compliance with applicable laws and helping navigate legal challenges and rights before regulatory bodies and courts. Our experience includes:
- Permit, entitlement and license requirements
- Processing of permits, entitlements and licenses
- Code enforcement & land use/zoning
- Appeals to zoning administrators, planning commissions and city councils
- Permit/entitlement modifications and revocations
- Building & Safety regulations, appeals, enforcement and compliance
- Vested rights
- Conditional use permits, minor use permits and other land use entitlements
- Permit Streamlining Act compliance
- Sign regulations and compliance
- Surplus Land Conservation Act (Williamson Act) litigation and compliance
- Accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations, development and compliance
- Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)
- Business License regulation, compliance, appeals and revocations
- Advisory work for planning commissions and city councils
- ABC licensing and regulatory compliance
Drones are increasingly utilized by governmental agencies and private businesses and individuals. Cities and counties use drones for purposes of public safety, inspections, searches and other uses. This involves a variety of Constitutional, federal and state laws and regulations that public agencies must follow.
Civica Law’s attorneys are well versed in drone law applied to use by public agencies, and regularly advise clients regarding the use of drones for a variety of governmental purposes. We help clients develop policies and procedures for use of drones in order to comply with legal requirements and mitigate risk, while effectively achieving the client’s goals for the drone program. We also advise clients regarding compliance with Fourth Amendment requirements and other federal and state regulations.
When public agencies find themselves in litigation over their drone programs or use, our team is extremely experienced in all aspects of litigation in state and federal courts, including trials, writs and appeals.
Public Records Act
Public records relate to the public’s right to access records of a government agency. Agencies respond on a daily basis to requests made under the Public Records Act (PRA), and face significant legal and monetary consequences if they do not properly comply with these complex laws. This can include paying the requestor’s attorney’s fees, in addition to the agency’s own litigation costs.
Our attorneys are extremely experienced in all aspects of the Public Records Act (PRA), and routinely advise clients regarding compliance and assisting with records review. We have represented public agencies in PRA lawsuits and helped our clients avoid many more through timely, effective and highly competent legal assistance.
We service clients with:
- Helping clients identify scope of requests, and assisting requestors with clarifications where needed
- Helping clients locate, review and produce records
- Advising clients through exemptions to the Public Records Act and applicable redactions
- Protecting privacy rights
- Consulting and coordinating with the agency’s City Attorney or County Counsel
- PRA requests specific to code enforcement, public safety and planning
- Assisting clients with responsive letters and other requirements
Drug Abatement Act & STEP
State law defines as a nuisance a building or place used for a variety of illegal narcotic-related purposes. These drug dens serve as a place for storing, selling, dealing and even manufacturing illicit drugs. They can endanger an entire neighborhood, and the condition of the property often deteriorates in the process – all while potentially drawing more crime to the community.
Fortunately, State law empowers cities and counties to deal with these nuisance properties. Civica Law’s legal team has successfully helped cities and counties abate and resolve numerous drug abatement cases, thereby, protecting and improving the neighborhood, and reducing the burden on local law enforcement, fire and other resources.
Unlawful Business Practices
When a business operates illegally, whether lacking required permits or entitlements, failing to obtain business licenses or violating zoning or other local laws, public agencies are empowered to protect their legal business community by requiring compliance with the law.
Under State law, unlawful business activities unfairly compete with legal businesses that follow the law, including incurring costs to obtain proper permits, develop their properties properly, and follow other laws. An unlawful business can undercut the economic viability of other businesses in the community, as well as the financial health of the public agency itself, as well as its attractiveness to lawful businesses.
Civica Law’s team has helped cities and counties successfully utilize every type of legal remedy available to bring unlawful businesses into compliance with the law or stop illegal operations. This experience includes a wide variety of illegal business operations and situations. Our approach recognizes that businesses are a critical component of the health of a public agency and its community, while helping agencies assist those businesses that desire to comply, and helping agencies respond to those that persist in unlawful and unsafe operations.
Administrative Hearings & Process
Local codes and State law provide for administrative processes to deal with a wide range of violations, including administrative fines, notices of violation, liens and assessments, and public nuisance hearings. A public agency can be right on the facts, only to lose its case by failing to properly follow the process. Worse yet, they can find themselves defending against legal claims.
Our attorneys have represented cities and counties in all levels and types of administrative hearings and process, including before hearing officers and hearing bodies, before planning commissions and city councils, and routinely, before judges and even courts of appeal. We are extremely experienced and knowledgeable in the State and local requirements for administrative hearings and processes, which can vary depending on the type of violation at issue, and helping agencies obtain compliance and reduce or eliminate legal claims in the process.
We are also frequently called upon to advise clients in updating their processes and laws to comply with changing State law and case law affecting many aspects of administrative hearings and processes, and finding effective and fair ways to “cut red tape” and streamline processes for agency staff and other participants alike.
Code Enforcement Process & Procedures; Advisory & Ordinance Assistance
State law and case law are regularly requiring cities and counties to update their local codes and processes. In addition, many local codes contain outdated processes, or even laws that no longer comply with State requirements or best practices, as well as ones that fail to meet the needs of the community or the goals of the public agency. Public agencies that have such laws can find their staff struggling to gain compliance, ineffectively or inefficiently enforcing laws, or worse yet, open themselves to legal claims and costs.
Civica Law’s legal team is adept at assisting public agencies in bringing their codes into compliance with State and Federal legal requirements, improving their codes and processes to meet the local agencies’ goals, and thereby, reducing legal exposure and making their code enforcement more effective, fair and efficient. We also provide training for agency staff in a variety of laws affecting code enforcement, increasing efficiency and safety, while reducing risk liability. We learn and respond to the local agency’s needs and goals, not the other way around.
Code Enforcement Training and Risk Management
Legal training specific to code enforcement has come a long way in the last two decades, and Civica Law’s team of attorneys have been at the forefront. This includes volunteer work on critical code enforcement -related State laws, including SB 296, which provided for the first time, requirements for safety standards specific to code enforcement officers, another law mandating comprehensive and uniform training standards for certified code enforcement officers, and helping develop case law in the profession.
Civica Law’s legal team is called upon nationwide to train code enforcement officers, supervisors, managers, law enforcement departments, building and planning departments, and other public agency staff in every legal aspect of code enforcement, including 4th Amendment, due process, other constitutional law, Federal and State laws, housing, abatement, legal aspects, warrant writing, and an array of others.
Public agencies must ensure their code enforcement and related staff are provided adequate and routine training in order to ensure they comply applicable laws in performing their duties, know and are able to effectively utilize applicable tools, and as a result, improve compliance and manage and mitigate risk to public agency employers.
Public Agency Litigation
Civica Law’s legal team has extensive experience and expertise in defending public agencies in litigation in Federal and State Courts, including appeals. We have defended claims involving:
- Government Tort Claims Act
- Constitutional law
- Civil Rights & 42 U.S.C. 1983
- Due process
- Fourth Amendment
- Claims involving inspections and abatements
- Fair Housing Act
- Excessive force
- Public Records Act
- Takings and inverse condemnation
- Writs of mandate and administrative writs
- Discrimination and selective enforcement
- Ordinance challenges
- Anti-SLAPP statute
When public agencies are sued, they and their staff need attorneys who are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the law…and in the courtroom. Civica Law’s attorneys are adept at both, and our unrivaled successes for our clients are the result.
Police Services & Public Safety
Civica Law’s attorneys advise police departments in community policing policies, helping them develop policies and procedures for local community safety, and representing such departments in court in a variety of hearings and procedures, including hearings on citations issued by police departments, Pitchess, probation hearings, mental competency hearings, workplace violence restraining orders, graffiti abatement and programs, and navigating State laws in the public safety context.
Our services to public safety departments for criminal citation services are focused exclusively on compliance, not punishment. Local agencies are charged with jurisdiction over citations issued under their laws. Working with the court system, public safety personnel, defense counsel and even the accused, our goal is to assist the local agency in upholding its laws while finding the reason for the violation and a reasonable way to resolve it, including diversion programs and other tools to avoid incarceration. The focus in this area is assisting the agency in protecting the neighborhood and victims, upholding the law, and helping accused violators to utilize available programs to break the vicious cycle of recidivism.
Our services for prosecuting law enforcement-issued citations are performed on a flat rate basis. We believe this helps ensure budget stability for the agency, as well as focusing the work on achieving justice in a highly ethical, effective and inclusive capacity.
Cannabis Regulation, Process & Enforcement
California’s laws on cannabis and marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and distribution are ever-changing. Cities and counties must develop and effectively enforce laws for regulating these businesses and land uses. Whether your city or county wishes to regulate them broadly or limit them, local laws must keep up to date with State and Federal laws, and have not just language providing for enforcement in the event of violations, but a realistic and effective means to uphold those laws.
Civica Law’s legal team has advised numerous local agencies in developing, implementing and enforcing laws relating to the cannabis industry, helping protect their communities, uphold their local goals and values, and helping them support legally operating businesses in that industry and others. This includes assisting with ordinances, helping develop policies and procedures, forms and training, and when necessary, enforcement, from a planning and zoning approach, code enforcement, business licensing, all the way through litigation and appeals.
Illegal Massage & Illegal Gambling/Tap-Taps
Illegal massage parlors, slum motels, crime dens: these places exist in many cities and counties throughout the State. They can be conduits for human trafficking, prostitution, and other illegal activities governed by the California Red Light Abatement Act. This State law also covers illegal gambling, including “tap taps”, and is enforceable by cities and counties.
Civica Law’s team is experienced in assisting public agencies in resolving these nuisances and illegal business operations using administrative and civil remedies, as well as working with cooperative landlords to cease illicit business activities.
Intellectual Property Law
Public agencies often have intellectual property to protect. Civica Law’s team includes attorneys licensed and experienced in Intellectual Property and advising public agencies. Our services include assisting public agencies with registering trademarks and copyrights, advising on trademark and copyright laws and application to public agencies, prosecuting and defending infringement cases, due diligence, and litigation. Civica Law’s combination of substantial public agency experience and Intellectual Property law capabilities give our clients a team well versed in the unique needs of public agencies seeking to protect intellectual property.