What are Code Violations?

To understand what a Code Violation is one must be familiar with two key concepts:

    1. Local Building/Housing Code

  • A set of standards put in place by local governments proclaiming what the minimum responsibilities of a property owner are as far as property maintenance, so as to not be considered a nuisance.


    2. Code Enforcement Department

  • A local Government Department, typically run by the City, devoted to ensuring that local Building/Housing Code standards are adhered to within their jurisdiction. Code Enforcement Departments, unsurprisingly, receive a lot of their tips from displeased neighbors. They document and vet these claims, citing owners when complaints are confirmed in person by staff. They cite violations they observe traveling to and from these tasks. They also conduct patrols seeking visible evidence of Code Violations.


A Code Violation is a fix-it-ticket, typically accompanied by a small fine and a deadline to resolve the violation, issued by the local Code Enforcement Department to a Property Owner who has failed to adhere to local Building/Housing Code.


Common examples of Code Violations are “High Weeds”, “Unsafe Structure”, “Inoperable Vehicle on Property > 3 Months”, “Vacant and Open” and issues stemming from tenants complaining about their landlord. 


Basically, the property is in objectively such poor shape that the local government is taking action. As stated above Code Violations come with deadlines, Property Owners face much more severe penalties than the initial fine for noncompliance when these expire.


Because of the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Code Enforcement Departments are legally mandated to disclose these records if properly requested. These records, as provided, are often very inconvenient to work with.


Why do Real Estate Professionals covet/seek Code Violations?


A Code Violation alone, overall, is unlikely to make someone sell their home immediately. However, a Code Violation list is most certainly a list of distressed property owners. We have run reports on Code Violation data compared with Property Sales records and have found that, in the USA, 4%-10% of properties that are issued code violations wind up selling within one year. Some of these are fairly immediate, the highest rate we have observed of sales within 1 month of initial write up is Richmond, VA where 0.8% of properties written up over the last 5 years have sold within 1 month of initially being written up.


Now, why is that? We are not claiming cause-and-effect. Merely an intriguing correlation (for some.) It is our belief that it is frequently “the straw that breaks the camel's back.” It is a common practice of those seeking off market deals requiring renovation to “drive for dollars” or have “bird dogs” meaning people driving around noting ugly houses to research and contact the owner. This is a common practice across the United States and one can only conclude that marketing to a list of properties gathered via this means is a worthwhile endeavor for a subset of the Real Estate Industry.


A Code Enforcement Department is this on steroids. Not only do they have a taxpayer funded budget to drive around looking for ugly houses with, they receive incessant inbound complaints regarding annoying neighbors and ugly houses from concerned citizens. A large City’s department will write or update info on thousands of cases per week. 


As you can see some of these issues are much more readily resolved than others. The vast majority of people issued Code Violations will clean their act up, and rightly so, it is in their best interest to do so. Some people may be in a position where it is in their best interest to, or they would at least rather, cash out on the property instead of carrying out expensive/inconvenient repairs. 


While we have established that a Code Violation, in isolation, is unlikely to trigger a quick sale. If someone was already considering getting rid of the house, and then the City came to their door, wrote them a fine, and told them it is time to invest in this property, they are now likely leaning harder towards selling. It happens and is not rare.


Why work with us?


Merely obtaining the information can be a hassle, it will be especially so if you want to stay on top of new information in regular intervals. Once you have received the information it is typically far from ready to use. Depending on your City it is pretty likely there will be no information about the owner in their report. Your report may or may not include the violation address, it may just be a parcel number. Our typical customer wants data in spreadsheet format, it may or may not be a spreadsheet, we process PDF and TXT files. 


These lists are great for keeping track of properties you’re investigating if you’re the City, their intention is not to be a Marketing list. To be ready for marketing tools really significant data appending, standardization, and consolidation is required. In many cities it is the case that when a record is updated the date the case was opened is not included, making distinguishing new cases from recent and longstanding ones difficult.


Given the most ideal circumstance, where the Department gives you a spreadsheet report containing the Owner's Name, Address, City, State, and ZIP all in their own columns. Let's say you're in a big City and you're looking to market to everyone who was written up in the previous year. You are still tasked with separating the names of 10,000+ Companies, Trusts, and People from one another in the Owner's Name column and then standardizing the names of the people into First and Last name columns for many marketing tools. No small undertaking, a task that deters many who could benefit from, and help people with, the data.


We do not take shortcuts and we do not guesstimate or fill in blanks. All data is acquired solely and painstakingly through government sources to ensure a high quality, convenient, competitively priced product.


We provide accurate Code Enforcement Records that you can use immediately. That is why Real Estate Professionals choose to work with us.