My house has been red tagged by code enforcement – what do I do now?


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When the city code enforcement officer red tags your home, it can be embarrassing, and stressful.  FEMA red tags houses due to natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding.  However local code enforcement agencies red tag homes due to destructive tenants and freeloading family members, trash build up, and other health and safety reasons.  When this happens, you want to address the problem quickly to avoid expensive fines and liens against your home.

Red tagged house – what does it mean?

Your city code enforcement department or other government entities red tag homes they consider to be unsafe to occupy.  This can happen due to fire damage,  or natural disasters such as tornadoes and flooding.  Code enforcement also red tags homes to stop renovations without permits from continuing.  But they’ll also red tag your home for unsafe electrical, plumbing and gas issues.  We’ve seen homes red tagged for simply not having the electricity turned on at the home due to lack of payment.

City Red Tag noticeAdditionally, some cities will red tag abandoned homes in order to deal with squatters and vandalism.  Others red tag homes that are unsafe due to hoarding, debris or general neglect.  I recently had a conversation with a code enforcement officer who told me nearly 50% of the houses that they red tag, are uninhabitable due to hoarding.

And it should not surprise you that code enforcement will red tags homes used to grow marijuana or produce illegal drugs.  Lastly, government rental inspection agencies can also red tag your rental property for rental housing code violations.

What happens to a red tagged house?

When a home becomes red tagged by local officials, they will attach a large red or orange sign on the front of the house.  This notice is typically visible from the street and prohibits entry to the property without written authorization by code enforcement.  If you or someone else is found on the property without written authorization from code enforcement, you can be arrested for trespassing.

Be aware, your neighbors may also call the police if they think someone is violating the red tag posting.  We recently had the police department come by a red tagged house where we are working because the neighbors had called the police.

Code violation letter

Along with the red tag, the owner of the property will be sent a code violation letter by the authorities.  This letter gives the reason for the enforcement action, and what needs to be corrected.  Lastly, the letter normally includes a timeline for remediation.Red Tag Code Enforcement Letter

Normally, the owner has 60 days from the first notice to solve the problem.  Additionally, any remediation will also require permits pulled for repairs.

It can be very expensive if you don’t address these problems within the specified time frame.  City code enforcement can assess fines and levies against your property. Or, the city may take action to correct the problem themselves, charging the owner.  For example, we purchased a red tagged home in Stockton, CA years ago.  Prior to our purchase, the city hired a contractor to board up the home and clean up the trash outside the home,  The city added the costs for the contractor to the fines levied by code enforcement.  Additionally, the code enforcement department sent someone each week to drive by the property, and charged the previous owner $125 for each time they drove by.  When we purchased the home, we had to pay over $11,000 in code enforcement liens as part of our purchase.

Beware, some cities use code enforcement as revenue generation.  During the Great Recession, some cities were accruing over $20,000 in code enforcement fines for abandoned house.  These cities were hoping the banks or new buyers would pay their exorbitant fees.  Some code enforcement departments can be reasonable to work with while you solve the problem.  However, we’ve also encountered cities where they weren’t flexible simply because of the revenue they were generating.

How to remove the code violations for a house

First, you must correct all of the the items on the letter from code enforcement department.  Once you correct the problems, you can call for a re-inspection by the city.  The agency that red tagged your home will send an inspector out to review your corrections.  If you pass their inspection, the home will be cleared for occupancy and the red tag removed.  You can either move back into the home, rent the property out, or sell the property.  However, if there have been any fines and levies against the home, these will remain on title until paid.

Lastly, it might be tempting to remove the embarrassing notice from the front of the home yourself. However, the notice must remain posted on the outside of the building until the code enforcement removes them.

Can you sell a red tagged house?

Houses that have been red tagged often have a lien or a cloud on title.  This can make make it very difficult for buyers to obtain financing.  Most banks and lenders will not lend on a home that is not safe to occupy or has significant repairs.  If you have a red tagged house, your option may be a cash buyer.  Cash buyers do not depend upon bank financing and often buy houses as is.