Month: October 2015

Administrative Enforcement of Code Violations

Non-home rule municipalities may now enforce administrative orders in the same manner as judicial orders

By Katherine Swise

Many municipalities prosecute ordinance violations through an administrative procedure in order to avoid the costs associated with court proceedings.  However, until recently, non-home rule municipalities were still required to commence proceedings in circuit court in order to enforce sanctions imposed pursuant to an administrative procedure.  Fortunately, the Illinois Municipal Code was amended in August of 2015 by Public Act 99-293 to give non-home rule municipalities greater options and authority to enforce administrative judgments for ordinance violations.  As a result, non-home rule municipalities are no longer required to commence proceedings in court to enforce administrative orders with regard to ordinance violations.

The Illinois Municipal Code authorizes non-home rule municipalities to establish a code hearing department to adjudicate municipal ordinance violations, with the exception of building code violations (which must be adjudicated pursuant to 65 ILCS 5/11-31.1-1 et seq.), offenses under the Illinois Vehicle Code, and similar traffic regulations governing the movement of vehicles.  Following a hearing as provided for in Article 1, Division 2.2 of the Municipal Code, a hearing officer makes a written determination whether an ordinance violation exists, known as the findings, decision, and order (“Administrative Order”).  The Administrative Order includes 1) the hearing officer’s findings of fact; 2) a decision of whether or not a code violation exists based on those findings of fact; and 3) an order stating the sanctions imposed against the violator (or dismissing the case, if no violation is found).  The Administrative Order is subject to administrative review in the circuit court of the county in which the municipality is located.

Prior to Public Act 99-293, a non-home rule municipality had to commence a proceeding in circuit court in order to obtain a judgment on the Administrative Order entered by the hearing officer.  Commencing a proceeding in circuit court requires filing a certified copy of the Administrative Order, along with a certification reciting facts sufficient to show that the Administrative Order was issued in accordance with the requirements of the Municipal Code with regard to administrative hearings and the applicable municipal ordinance.  A summons must be issued and served as provided in the Code of Civil Procedure, or, if the total fines and costs imposed by the Administrative Order is less than $2500, by certified mail, return receipt requested.  If the court finds that the Administrative Order was entered in accordance with the requirements of the Municipal Code and the applicable municipal ordinance, and that the defendant had an opportunity for a hearing on the ordinance violation and an opportunity for judicial review of the hearing officer’s decision, then the court renders judgment in favor of the municipality for the amount indicated in the Administrative Order, plus costs.

With the enactment of Public Act 99-293, non-home rule municipalities now have another option for enforcement of the Administrative Order entered by the hearing officer.  A municipality may still use the judicial proceedings described above; however, amendments to Section 1-2.2-55 of the Municipal Code now authorize non-home rule municipalities to enforce the findings, decision, and order of an administrative hearing officer in the same manner as a judgment entered by a court.  Further, where a defendant has failed to comply with a judgment ordering correction of a code violation or imposing fines or other sanctions, any expenses incurred by the municipality to enforce the judgment, including attorney’s fees, whether fixed by a court of competent jurisdiction or a hearing officer, are a debt due and owing the municipality and may be collected in accordance with applicable law.  The defendant must be given an opportunity for a hearing on expenses before they can be fixed by a hearing officer.  The municipality may also record a lien against any real estate of the defendant in the amount of the debt due and owing, which may be enforced in the same manner as a judgment lien pursuant to a judgment entered by a court.

Finally, the amendments to the Municipal Code under Public Act 99-293 authorize a hearing officer to set aside any default judgment upon good cause shown and set a new hearing date if the defendant petitions the hearing officer within 21 days after the issuance of the default order.  If a default judgment is set aside, the hearing officer also has the authority to enter an order extinguishing any lien recorded for debt due and owing the municipality as a result of the vacated default judgment.

The amendments to the Municipal Code enacted by Public Act 99-293 give non-home rule municipalities greater flexibility and authorization to enforce fines and other sanctions entered against defendants pursuant to an administrative code enforcement procedure.  Non-home rule municipalities who currently use an administrative procedure for code enforcement should consult their municipal attorneys about revising their ordinances to provide for entry and enforcement of administrative judgments under these amendments. Additionally, non-home rule municipalities who have not previously adopted administrative code enforcement procedures may consider implementing such procedures, now that they may be enforced without the time and expense of filing proceedings in circuit court.

 

School Districts Must Comply with Zoning

Municipal zoning ordinances govern school district construction on school property

By Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

On September 24, 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court held in the case of Gurba v. Community High School Dist. No. 155, 2015 IL 118332, that a school district’s construction and use of school property is subject to municipal zoning ordinances. Prior to Gurba, school districts often acted as if they were exempt from local zoning ordinances, resulting in frequent disputes between municipalities and school districts within their territories. This article briefly summarizes the facts and law addressed by Gurba to assist the reader in evaluating the application of zoning ordinances to school district actions.

The Facts of Gurba

This case involves Crystal Lake South High School (the “School”), which is located in an area zoned “R-2 residential single family,” in the City of Crystal Lake (the “City”), a municipal corporation with home rule authority. The School is a legal, non-conforming use. The Board of Education of Community High School District No. 155 (the “Board”) decided to replace the School’s football stadium bleachers, planning to switch the locations of the home and visiting bleachers. This change placed the new, larger and higher home bleachers closer to the property lines of abutting residences. Prior to construction, the Board applied to the McHenry County Regional Superintendent of Schools for a building permit, which was issued pursuant to §3-14.20 of the School Code. The district did not notify the City or apply for a building permit, zoning approval, or storm water management before it began the project.

When the City learned of the project, it ordered the Board to stop work until the Board obtained a special-use permit, a storm water permit and zoning variances. The Board, believing itself exempt from the City’s zoning authority, ignored the City’s order and completed construction of the new bleachers.

Unsurprisingly, residents living next to the School sued the Board, alleging that the bleachers did not comply with the City’s zoning regulations and that they negatively impacted property values.

Before Construction

Picture depicting the view from the Plaintiff's backyard prior to the construction of new bleachers
Picture depicting the view from the Plaintiff’s backyard prior to the construction of new bleachers

After Construction

Picture included in brief before the Illinois Supreme Court, depicting the view of the Plaintiff's backyard following the school's construction of its new bleachers
Picture depicting the view of the Plaintiff’s backyard following the school’s construction of its new bleachers

Simultaneously, the School district filed a declaratory judgment action that requested the court provide a definitive ruling as to whether it must comply with the City zoning ordinances at issue.

Analysis

The Supreme Court explained that unless an express statutory exclusion exists, “municipalities are empowered by the Illinois Municipal Code to regulate all land uses within their territory.” Although the General Assembly has exempted certain entities or uses from municipal zoning regulations (such as political campaign signs, and antennas for amateur radio communications), no statutory provision exempts school property from zoning regulations. Thus, the Supreme Court concluded that “under the plain terms of the Municipal Code, school property is subject to municipal zoning laws.”

The Court also examined the fact that the City is home rule, giving it broad powers to perform functions related to its government affairs – such as zoning – unless a statute expressly pre-empts such powers. Despite the Gurba Court’s focus on the City’s home rule authority, the Municipal Code grants non-home rule municipalities essentially the same power to enact zoning regulations, and nothing contained in Gurba, or in statute, suggests a non-home rule municipality has any less authority to impose zoning regulations on school property.

The Board tried to argue that permitting the City’s zoning powers to extend to school property unduly interfered with the General Assembly’s “constitutional authority to regulate the public education system.” The Supreme Court disagreed. In fact, the General Assembly expressly acknowledges and accepts the application of zoning ordinances to school property, as Section 10-22.13a of the Illinois School Code authorizes school boards “[t]o seek zoning changes, variations, or special uses for property held or controlled by the school district.” The Board also argued that the City’s review and inspection of school construction plans is limited to the Health/Life Safety Code for Public Schools; however, the Court held that nothing contained in this code – or the statutes imposing it – alter the statutory authority municipalities have to enact and enforce zoning regulations.

The Supreme Court held that the School district and Board were subject to the City’s zoning regulation. As a consequence, the school has to tear its new bleachers down.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s decision in Gurba should put to rest the perennial debate between municipalities and school districts within their territory with respect to zoning. Following Gurba, school districts would be well-advised to communicate early and often with their municipality’s zoning departments to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations. In turn, municipalities may want to review current regulatory compliance by schools within their jurisdiction to determine what action, if any, would be appropriate.