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.