Legal-Ease: Why am I being harassed by my local government?

Governing people in our society can be a difficult task. This is especially true for those involved in small governments like villages and townships where the responsibilities outweigh the salary, if any.

The protection of “life and physical integrity” has been recognized over the years as a primary obligation of government, particularly local communities. Often, usually through their fire and police departments, governments try to protect people in precarious situations. However, governments are also helping their communities avoid risky situations to begin with. So sometimes a government “bad guy” proactively saves someone else’s life by preventing a dangerous circumstance from occurring or continuing to exist.

For example, local village governments have the responsibility and corresponding authority sufficient to protect the health and safety of their residents and visitors in general. This power (often referred to as “police power”) includes ensuring the security of buildings and the security of almost everything on people’s real property.

No government has sufficient funds to enforce every law, ordinance or regulation fully, completely and completely consistently. Therefore, imagine having $10 to use to purchase partial insurance that would cost $150 if the insurance was accurate and complete. If insurance could save the lives of your loved ones, how would you prioritize the use of the $10 you have to work with? Most likely, like local governments, you would prioritize protecting whatever you can best identify as the riskiest circumstances.

In the context of local government, the emphasis on one owner over another arises because of an individual complaint or a specific, identified, and probable condition (such as seeing tilted exterior walls) that may prompt a government to pay attention to one building or property rather than another. It’s about focusing on the riskiest situations first, even though it’s not scientifically proven that “riskiest circumstances” are definitely the riskiest circumstance component of a community.

The natural imperfection of governments in carrying out their law enforcement work leads some people to allege unlawful inequality/inconsistency in the government’s enforcement of its laws and ordinances.

For example, a small business owner who barely keeps the doors open may not accept visits from local government officials who are legally authorized to inspect all buildings in that jurisdiction. Of course, in addition to inspecting the property for structural issues, other issues such as excessive apparent mold or other unsafe conditions (such as weak floors or holey floors) are assessed by local government inspectors.

The target of a local government inspection may feel discriminated against. These business/building owners often ask, “Why are you picking on me?”

Unless a person is being targeted because of their race, age or other protected reasons, a local government is supposed to and almost always should exercise its police powers.

Trying to get out of a speeding citation/ticket by alleging someone else was going even faster is not an effective argument.

Likewise, alleging that someone else’s building or business is more dangerous than the level of danger in your own building or business is usually a legal failure.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agricultural matters in Northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to be used as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based on the specific facts and circumstances you are facing.