A South Austin neighborhood is being hammered with seemingly nitpicking and spurious code violations.
In October, the city’s 311 nonemergency number started getting a flood of calls complaining about homes in South Austin’s Fairview neighborhood. Over several days, the anonymous caller or callers gave the city 35 different tips about houses with possible code violations. After city inspectors followed up, they issued violation notices to 76 homeowners in the neighborhood, telling them they must apply for permits for improvements such as garage conversions and carports.
Those who fail to correct the problem could be criminally charged and fined up to $2,000 per day or have their utilities disconnected, according to recent letters sent to homeowners that gave them a March 26 deadline to comply.
The homeowners say they’re upset by the violation letters and want more time to figure out how to negotiate the city bureaucracy to get into compliance.
“I’m worried about the fines,” said John Anguiano, 77, who lives on Heartwood Drive, and got a violation notice for a garage conversion he did about 1975. “I’m old, retired and sick, and it’s a pain to deal with this.”
Anguiano said he’s tried to get a permit, but it’s been on hold since October; he’s being told he must get a variance from the Austin City Council because he lives in the flood plain. Williamson Creek is nearby, and many of the 76 homeowners can’t resolve their permit issues until they get a variance to do home improvements in a flood plain.
Dale Flatt, a 24-year city firefighter on medical leave, is one of the organizers trying to help his neighbors straighten out the mess.
“To code inspectors, all these people are just associated with an address,” he said. “But they have lived there up to 40 years, and now it’s turned into a nightmare.”
[Click to continue reading Code violation letters rain down on South Austin neighborhood]
The city’s Planning and Development Review Department is only open from 8 AM to 11 AM, Monday through Friday, not the most consumer friendly hours.
My dad lives in this area, and has received one of the letters. He emailed:
I got a violation notice for replacing my doors with a window and a door. They think that I’ve creating “living space” in the garage. I could beat that by demonstrating that it is not living space but is still a workshop and storage.
… So I must go for the Flood Plain variance from city council to get a permit and get that work inspected. Bullshit, fer sure.
I’ve been in this garage, and other than his oil paints and easel, no building inspector in their right mind would think that area could be classified as living space. There are mostly construction tools and various related items, car parts for the vintage Porsche that’s getting modified to run with an electric motor, and similar things. Stuff that belongs in a garage, in other words.
My brother, pictured above with brussels sprout earrings, who happens to live next door, also got a code violation letter, and adds:
We have been cited by the city for illegal conversion of garage into living space without a permit. In addition, we are located inside the 100 year floodplain, so the city will not issue permits to us because of increased liability for flood damage. What the residents have to do is apply for a permit, get rejected, then bring it to the city council and ask for a variance. If accepted, then file again for a permit, get inspected, pay the fees etc. If the city council will not issue the variance, then either destroy the construction or sue, I guess….
So crazy. The majority of these houses1 were built in the 1960s and 1970s, why has the 100 year flood plain only suddenly become an issue? Curious as to how this will play out now that the story has been made public. Also wonder why this particular area has been singled out. Maybe a disgruntled former resident (someone’s ex-husband or similar)? A disgruntled building inspector? A disgruntled contractor? Who knows, but if a building inspector wanted to look closely, they could discover violations in nearly every house and building on every block in every city2.Footnotes: