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


By Lee R. Schroeder - Guest Columnist



Governing people in our society can be a tough job. This is particularly true for people involved in smaller governments like villages and townships where the responsibilities outweigh the pay, if any.

Protection of “life and limb” has been recognized over the years as being a primary obligation of government, particularly local government. Often, usually through their fire departments and police departments, governments try to protect people in precarious circumstances. However, governments also help their communities to avoid risky circumstances to begin with. Thus, sometimes, a government “bad guy” is proactively saving someone else’s life by not allowing an unsafe circumstance to arise or continue to exist.

For instance, local village governments have the responsibility and sufficient corresponding power to protect their residents’ and visitors’ health and safety in general. This power (often called “police power”) includes ensuring building safety and the safety of almost any/all items located on people’s real estate.

No government has sufficient funds to enforce every law, ordinance or regulation entirely, completely and perfectly consistently. Therefore, imagine having $10 to use to buy partial insurance that would cost $150 if the insurance was accurate and complete. If the 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 protection for whatever you can best identify as being the riskiest circumstances.

In the local government context, focus on one property owner over another arises due to an individual complaint or some specific, identified, likely condition (like seeing bowing exterior walls) that can prompt a government to give attention to one building or property over another. This is focusing on the riskiest situations first, even if the “riskiest circumstances” are not scientifically proven to definitely be the riskiest circumstance component of a community.

Governments’ natural imperfection in undertaking their law enforcement work leads some people to allege unlawful inequality/inconsistency in government enforcement of its laws and ordinances.

For example, a small business owner who is barely keeping the doors open may not welcome a visit from local government officials who are legally permitted to inspect all buildings in that jurisdiction. Of course, in addition to inspecting property for structural concerns, other concerns like excessive apparent mold or other unsafe conditions (like weak floors or floors with holes) are evaluated by local government inspectors.

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

Unless someone is targeted for their race, age or other protected reasons, a local government is expected to and almost always must necessarily exercise its police powers.

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

Similarly, alleging that someone else’s building or business is more dangerous than the level of danger in your own building or business is usually legally unsuccessful.

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By Lee R. Schroeder

Guest Columnist

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 agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

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 agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

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