One general aspect of being a homeowner that many aren’t aware of is the municipal codes that a homeowner must adhere to when residing in a given district. Moreover, homes that are a part of a Homeowner’s Association or HOA, come with another layer of rules and restrictions.
While it might be easy to assume that the previous homeowner maintained the home in a manner that abided by municipal codes, this is not always the case. What’s more concerning is that as the new homeowner, you will often become the new responsible party, even for past violations.
Aside from just arranging for a municipal lien search with your title agent and familiarizing yourself with the various types of code violations, there’s a way to shield yourself as a homeowner effectively: working with your title agent to ensure they’ve investigated all the common municipal codes and communicating with the HOA to determine the home’s historical data.
The Role of Your Title Agent
While it may seem that the office of your title agent is just a place to sign papers and process the mundane legal aspects of buying a home, they are much more important to the process than many realize. Your Exclusive Buyer’s Agent will likely have a relationship with the title agent, but you, as the homeowner, should be in close communication with your title agent as well.
The title agent conducts various research into the history of your home to ensure that there are little to no delays, or in this case, surprises once you’ve closed on your home. It’s vital for them to dig as deeply as possible to understand all the various legal entanglements that could cost you big time after you’ve closed on the property.
Most Common Code Violations
Code violations are not solely a concern for existing homeowners; prospective buyers must also be attentive to how violations and fines from previous owners could be transferred to them. Here are some of the most prevalent code violations:
A neatly maintained lawn leaves a positive initial impression in a neighborhood. Many municipalities stipulate that property owners should keep grass length under 10 inches on developed property and under 12 inches on undeveloped property. Owners are also responsible for maintaining the grass on their part of the city’s right-of-way or easement.
Property maintenance needs to align with the Code or Ordinances in each city or county. This ensures overall safety, health, and property values in the area. Therefore, all structures must be in good condition, and yards should be well-maintained.
A front yard shouldn’t be treated as a dumping ground. It’s not always a result of deliberate negligence on the property owner’s part. During home renovations, owners should be mindful that if contractors leave building materials unattended for an extended period or if their crew uses the lawn as makeshift storage, the municipality might hold the owner liable.
Vehicles normally cannot be left abandoned on public or private property unless it’s part of a business or fully enclosed within a structure. Abandoned cars could pose health risks due to fluid leaks and chemicals, apart from creating an unsightly view for neighbors.
Typical regulations for cars include:
- Current licenses and tags are a must.
- Vehicles must be operational and roadworthy.
- Parking should be on improved surfaces like asphalt, concrete, or masonry.
- Parking on grass, dirt, or gravel might result in fines.
Numerous cities enforce noise ordinances for property owners. Barking dogs, noisy birds, or other loud animals could lead to citations. A noisy pet could incur a $100 fine for the property owner, even if the pet belongs to a tenant. Failure to pay the fine could lead to a lien on the property. Ultimately, homeowners are responsible for ensuring their tenants comply with this ordinance.
Pathway, Road, or Alleyway Obstructions
Public streets and sidewalks need to remain accessible and clear at all times. Items like trash cans, signs, vehicles, plants, or any materials shouldn’t obstruct the right-of-way. Homeowners need to clean up any spills before trash pickup. If your property borders public traffic control or road signs, you must ensure that no structures or plants hinder their visibility.
Additional common violations include displaying signs, conducting garage sales without proper permits, and neglecting pools. This list isn’t exhaustive and might not encompass all the potential code violations in a city or county. Consult your local municipality’s rules and regulations to ensure you’re being a considerate neighbor.
For those purchasing homes and unfamiliar with the regulations, conducting an unrecorded lien search is vital. This reveals crucial information about ongoing violations or liens that the buyer might be responsible for after closing, even if a traditional title search was conducted on the property.
Importance of Code Enforcement Updates
Maintaining up-to-date code enforcement information is vital. Since initially obtaining the information, several developments might have taken place:
- New violations could have been documented.
- Existing fines might have increased.
- A violation could have escalated into a lien.
- There might have been opportunities to negotiate smaller payments and resolve issues.
- Violations or permits might have been rectified.
Although delaying the closing on a home can be disheartening, the undeniable truth is that having the most current information can prevent potential claims. Real-life instances underscore the value of revisiting this process.
Bridging the Gap Between Recorded Information & Closings
Acquiring knowledge about common code violations is only one aspect of a title agent’s duty in protecting you as a homeowner. As demands on municipal departments increase, information gaps often become more frequent.
The most effective measure to bridge the gap is having your title agent order an update as close to the closing date as possible, ensuring that they possess the latest information. However, this doesn’t guarantee the discovery of all new issues, but it remains the best strategy to prepare against unexpected surprises.