In December 2000, the City Attorney created a new section of the City Attorney's Office to deal specifically with criminal and code violations found at homes, apartment complexes, motels, dump sites, and businesses throughout the City. The Code Compliance and Environmental Litigation Section's ("Code Compliance Section") goal is to encourage owners to remedy problems on their properties and if they do not, to file lawsuits against the owners, seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties. The Code Compliance Section works on the following types of cases: criminal abatement, code enforcement, municipal court urban nuisance, environmental enforcement, and fair housing
Chapter 54 Lawsuits
The Code Compliance Section files lawsuits under Chapter 54 and Chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code for code, environmental, and zoning violations at various types of properties. In these lawsuits, the City seeks the repair or demolition of substandard properties, the cleanup of environmental hazards, or the compliance of properties with the City's zoning laws through injunctions and the collection of civil penalties.
Recent Chapter 54 Lawsuit Successes
The City filed suit in 2004 regarding an abandoned 8-unit apartment complex. After a trial before the Court, the City was awarded $4,980 and court costs and the owner was ordered to repair the structure. The structure was subsequently sold to a non-profit organization that has completely rehabilitated the structure.
The City filed suit in 2004 against owners of occupied apartment complex. After entering into an Agreed Temporary Injunction, the Defendant completely repaired the apartment complex. The parties entered into a Settlement Agreement for $10, 000 in civil penalties.
The City filed suit in 2003 regarding a house located in the Kings Highway Conversation District. Once the title issues were resolved, new owners purchased the property, paid the City's court cost, and finished the rehabilitation of the property in 2005.
The Dallas Environmental Enforcement Program is designed to enforce the environmental laws in the City of Dallas, as well as to increase communication with violators and the public. Cases are brought under the Dallas City Code as Class "C" Misdemeanor criminal cases in the Municipal Courts for the City of Dallas and as civil cases under Chapter 54 of the Texas Local Government Code in both the District Courts for Dallas County and the Municipal Courts for the City of Dallas. Some of the sections commonly cited are in Chapter 19 section 118 et. seq. and Chapter 49 section 42.
The program deals with all types of environmental violations, including but not limited to sewage discharges, chemical spills, water pollution, runoff from construction sites and industrial facilities, and violation of required permits. This program includes the enforcement of the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (TPDES) requirements. This permit program began as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES) administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is now administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) currently as the TPDES program. The City of Dallas is required to enforce the provision of and compliance issues for these permits. Additional information on these permits and programs can be obtained from the EPA and TCEQ.
Recent Environmental Litigation Successes
This site is a trailer park that had sewage discharging to and standing in the roadside ditches adjacent to the property. There were also numerous code violations regarding the trailers on the property. As seen in the pictures, the property has greatly improved.
The site of a carpet company, who was storing old carpet outside, exposed to storm water and other elements. Additional code violations existed at the property as well, including the harborage of rodents. The Court has issued a permanent injunction and awarded civil penalties against two defendants while a third defendant entered into an agreed judgment with the City.
A vacant lot with multiple dumping issues. It was scattered with debris, trash, sharp objects, and inoperable motor vehicles. The site has since been cleared of such violations.
Municipal Court Cases
In late 2000, the City Council passed an ordinance that authorized the filing of suits in municipal court for urban nuisances that are so severe that the houses should be demolished. The Code Compliance Section has filed hundreds of lawsuits, resulting in the repair or demolition of vacant houses all over the City.
Recent Successful Municipal Court Cases
Criminal Abatement Cases
Attorneys in the Code Compliance Section work closely with the S.A.F.E. Team and the Narcotics Division of the Dallas Police Department. The Police identify properties with habitual criminal activity, primarily prostitution and drug dealing, and work with the owners to remedy these problems. If the owners are unwilling to make reasonable attempts to abate the criminal activity, the City files a suit against the owners to abate the criminal activity.
The City files suit pursuant to Chapter 125 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, as amended in 2005, seeking injunctions prohibiting the ongoing criminal activity, injunctions setting reasonable requirements for abatement, bonds conditioned upon the cessation of criminal activity, and ultimately the closure of the business should the criminal activity continue.
Recent Criminal Abatement Case Successes
The Dallas Police Department and the SAFE Team noted approximately 100 drug and prostitution-related incidents in the truck stop's parking lot in a 7-month period. After a hearing, the Court ordered Defendants to cease the criminal activity. The parties entered into an agreed permanent injunction lasting until January 22, 2006, in which the owner agreed to maintain 15 hours of security per week, utilize criminal trespass warnings, enact parking regulations, maintain perimeter fencing, security cameras, lighting, post a $10,000 bond with the Court, and pay the City $2,250 in attorney's fees.
Fair Housing Cases
The Code Compliance Section works with the Dallas Fair Housing Office to review and prosecute complaints of housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, religion, and familial status. In addition, the City Council passed an ordinance (General Fair Housing Ordinance) that made illegal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations. (Sexual Orientation Ordinance)
When this ordinance became effective on October 1, 2002, the Code Compliance Section began reviewing those complaints.