City Council recently approved Ordinance No. O2019-35 enacting Chapter 214 (Code Compliance: Civil Offenses & Fines) and amending Sections 1436.06 (Remedial Action) and 1436.99 (Penalty) of the Middletown Codified Ordinances. The purpose of this new ordinance is to give the City Enforcement Officers an additional tool to help address violations of the City Code in a manner that does not require subjecting citizens to a proceeding in Court and a criminal conviction.
Previously, when an enforcement officer observed a violation of the code, they could choose to work with the citizen to correct problems, they could give warnings and they could issue a citation for criminal proceedings.
With this new legislation, Officers can now also choose to enforce the code by issuing a civil penalty. This is a civil financial penalty to violators instead of a criminal court case.
If a person receives a Civil Penalty and disagrees with the Enforcement Officer’s determination, they can request an appeal with a hearing officer who will hear from both the citizen and the City Enforcement Official and make a determination if the penalty should be imposed. The City has created an Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to oversee these citations. Middletown native, attorney Jimmy Calhoun, will work as the Hearing officer for all appeals. He is independent of city government and the Municipal Court.
Below are some of the frequently asked questions about Civil Offenses & Fines along with answers and/or explanations.
1. What is a civil offense?
- A monetary penalty (civil fine) issued for a violation of various sections of the Middletown Codified Ordinances. Ordinance
- Fines are based on the class of the violation, but the fine may be reduced in some cases with timely compliance.
- It is an alternative to a criminal citation and a criminal conviction.
- A criminal citation cannot be issued at the same time as a civil offense for the same violation.
2. How does the process work?
- City enforcement officials discover a violation and issue a notice of the violation.
- Depending on the nature of the offense, a city official may give a warning / opportunity to abate the violation. On the other hand, a violation of the MCO which is strictly traffic or criminal in nature could lead directly to a Notice of Civil Offense.
- If a Notice of Civil Offense is issued, it must be served in person, by certified mail or posting on the property. Sample Notice of Civil Offenses
- Each civil offense will be docketed with an individual case number.
3. What should you do if you receive a Notice of Civil Offense?
- The ANSWER portion of the Notice must be filed within 10 calendar days of service.
- There are 4 options for the Answer:
- Admit the violation, and pay fine as stated on Notice.
- Admit to a reducible violation, provide proof of correction and pay the reduced fine. The Notice will indicate if it is eligible for reduction.
- Request a hearing to contest the civil offense.
- Respond that an administrative appeal under Chapter 2506 of the Ohio Revised Code has already been filed in Common Pleas Court. The Civil offense is suspended until appeal has been resolved.
- REDUCIBLE FINES: Abatement of the violation must be completed within 10 calendar from service of the Notice.
- APPEALS ~ REQUESTS FOR HEARING:
- Upon receipt of Answer requesting a hearing, the OAH will send a Hearing Notice within 10 calendar days.
- Hearings will be held within 30 calendar days of request.
- Hearings will be held at the City Building and will be recorded.
- The OAH will notify you if you need to appear.
- A written Post-Hearing Decision of Hearing Examiner will be issued within 10 calendar days of the hearing.
- Fines owed will be due within 10 calendar days of receipt of Decision.
4. Unpaid Civil Fines
- If the Answer and fine are not received within 10 calendar days, OAH will send a post-default notice of fine.
- The fine doubles after 10 calendar days.
- If the unpaid fine is referred for collection, the fine increases again
5. When will enforcement of civil penalties begin?
- Ordinance O2019-35 goes into effect on July 5, 2019.
- Staff is currently being trained on issuing civil offenses.
- We expect to start issuing Notices of Civil Offense beginning July 15, 2019.
The long term purpose of this is two-fold. We hope to use it to bring more properties into code compliance and to continue to clean up the city. Second, the civil fine keeps our residents from getting a criminal conviction for housing violations and other nuisance activities.
Like all ideas and policies, this is not a silver bullet. It won’t solve all of our compliance issues. I still can’t legislate an ordinance to make your next door neighbor care about their property and the neighborhood and to be a good neighbor.
It’s another tool to help… nothing more and nothing less. Hopefully it helps.