New Rules for Ordinance Violations

New Supreme Court Rules require review and updating of ordinances

By Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

On December 7, 2011, new Illinois Supreme Court Rules (“Rules”) governing ordinance violations went into effect.  These new Rules address many issues a municipality faces when dealing with ordinance violations. The Rules clarify how a municipality may initiate ordinance prosecutions and address ways a municipality may resolve violations outside of court. Importantly, the new Rules also clarify that municipalities can request the court order remedies beyond just fines, potentially including an order to remedy violations or to prohibit future violations.

Municipalities should review their ordinances to ensure they are both up to date and drafted to take full advantage of (and comply with) the new Rules.  This article briefly addresses some of the more important changes and suggests where municipalities should begin their review.

Initiating Ordinance Prosecutions

Prior to the new Rules, most municipalities initiated ordinance violations through their police force (if they have one) or attorney. The new Rules clarify that a municipality may also initiate actions through certified mail and by personal service from a code enforcement officer. Allowing service by code enforcement officers can allow more efficient enforcement by allowing individuals most involved with an issue to pursue it. For example, building safety inspectors may issue tickets for property/building code violations, or animal control officers may ticket for animal violations, etc..

Alternatives to Court

Many municipalities resolve violations without resorting to court action. The new Rules clarify that while this is allowed, the manner and time limits to settling such matters must be provided for in the ordinance.

Limit Court Discretion

For municipalities that use court actions to resolve ordinance violations, the new Rules require courts to impose the minimum fine provided for by ordinance. This prevents the possibility of a court finding in the municipality’s favor, but imposing only a de minimis fine, such as $1.00.  To take advantage of this Rule, an ordinance must explicitly state the minimum fine.

Remedies other than fines

Until now, ordinance prosecutions have largely focused on fining violators. In addition to fines, the Rules also permit municipalities to request other appropriate relief, which may potentially include remunerating victims, remedying violations, or prohibiting future violations. To pursue such remedies in court, the relevant ordinance(s) must explicitly permit those remedies.

Other Considerations

In addition to expanding the ways in which a municipality may pursue fines or other relief for ordinance violations, the new Rules also impose additional requirements related to notifications of violators. These new procedural requirements require municipalities to review their own approaches to prosecution to ensure judgments obtained against violators are enforceable. At the very least, legal counsel should review the notifications provided to violators to ensure the municipality is complying with the new Rules’ requirements.

In light of these Rules, municipalities should review their codes to ensure they maximize the ways in which ordinance violations may be addressed. All municipalities should ensure that they have a general, catch-all ordinance that provides for minimum fines and settlement of ordinance violations without resorting to a court action.  Although requiring a review of a municipality’s code, the Rules are a valuable addition to any municipality desiring greater control and options in dealing with violators.