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 The DNS Code Violation Process

  • Who's involved?
  • How long does it take?
  • Alternative resolutions?
  • Potential costs to owners?

This is a review of the code violation process and how the general public can become more aware of the steps which are necessary to have violations corrected.

Who are the inspectors?
The Department employs a variety of inspectors including, plumbing, electrical, constructions, boiler, sprinkler, elevator, and code enforcement inspectors. While all enforce the building code, most of the enforcement activity is carried out by code enforcement inspectors. The authority of the inspectors to enforce the building code extends to almost all buildings in the City. All inspectors have the authority to issue orders and citations to correct conditions.

Order to Correct Conditions 
Orders are legal documents which order the owner to make repairs, and set a time limit for completing them. The time limits are based on the severity of the condition and the inspector's judgment on the reasonable amount of time needed to make the repair. The time limit on most notice letters is 30-90 days but they can be as short as one hour or as long as one year. In almost all cases, owners have an opportunity to appeal any orders.

The Enforcement Process 
When the compliance date on an order has expired, the inspector may grant an extension of time if the inspector believes that the extension will help achieve compliance. An additional extension can be granted by a supervisor. If the owner has not completed the work in the time required, the order is normally referred for further enforcement action which may include citations, reinspection fees or court action. Normally, prosecution is done in Municipal Court where fines can be levied. It is important to note that DNS is not interested in the fine, but rather compliance. That is why after the deadline for payment of the fine is passed, the orders are reissued. It is highly recommended that those with a violation notice stay in contact with the inspector. Every order contains contact information at the end. Call the inspector immediately to detail your restoration plan. A lack of communication will be deamed as unresponsive and costs will escalte to motivate complaince.

If a complaint cannot be resolved in a timely manner, it may result in court action against the owner. To learn more about how that process works see the Enforcement Section.

Reinspection Fees 
Once an order is issued, a deadline for compliance is set. The time depends on the nature of the violation. Serious items could require attention in 24 hours, most are 30 days, paint orders in winter could be six months. In order to encourage timely action and to put the cost of repeated violations on the trouble makers, a set of reinspection fees are used. If after the first reinspection following the deadline the violations still remain, a reinspection fee is added to the prop. Hopefully the fees quickly gets the owner's attention and results in quicker compliance.  Fees that are unpaid by the annual taxroll closing date in October are added to the annual tax bill. Once the fees are on the tax roll, there is no appeal for dismissal. (See Appeal Rights below)

Rent Withholding 
The occupants of a rental unit, including commercial buildings, may apply to the department for rent withholding if the property they rent has an active overdue order. The exceptions to this are licensed rooming houses or owner-occupied duplexes, and situations where the only violation is exterior painting.

Rather than paying rent to the owner, the tenant pays the rent to the department. Monthly rental receipts are sent to the owner. The payments are held in an escrow account until the owner has complied with all the violations. In some cases, rent withholding funds may be used by the department to make repairs on a property or to pay relocation costs for tenants. The property owner has the right to appeal the departments decision to grant tenants the right to withhold rent. All rent withholding requests require an inspector's approval first. For further information on Rent Withholding, contact the Department of Neighborhood Services at (414) 286-2268.

Rent Abatement 
Under State law, tenants may abate (reduce) a portion of their rent if conditions are such that a portion of their unit is unusable. Rent abatement is an individual action by the tenant and is not administered by DNS. For further information on Rent Abatement, contact Community Advocates at (414) 449-4777 (A.M. only).

Essential Services
In emergency situations, the Department can issue what is called an 'Essential Service Order'. This order gives the City the authority to make repairs and charge the owner if the owner fails to correct unsafe conditions. The costs of the repairs are billed to the owner or placed on the tax bill. Typically these orders are used in emergency conditions relating to heating, plumbing, or electrical items.

Condemnation Actions
State law authorizes the City to order an owner to tear down a building if the cost of repairing it exceeds 50% of the assessed value. It may be declared a public nuisance under State Statute 66.05. If the owner does not comply the City can hire a private contractor to raze the building. The cost for razing the building can be filed as a lien on the real estate or the City can sue the owner for the costs. Since the demolition of an owner's building is a serious action, there are many legal safeguards which limit the City's actions. In a typical case it may take up to 6 months to a year to have a building razed when the owner fails to cooperate. 

Nuisance Actions
State law authorizes the City to file a circuit court action to have a property declared a public nuisance. Reasons can include failure to correct building code violations or operating a building in a way that it is a nuisance to the neighborhood. In a nuisance action, the Circuit Court is asked to appoint a receiver to take control of the building. Typically the receiver may be authorized to collect rents, evict tenants who are causing problems, and make any repairs necessary to meet the building code. The City's cost of a receivership action may become a lien on the property.

Appeal Rights Protocol
The first thing a person issued an order should do is contact the inspector. The inspector or issuing authority's phone number is included at the end of every order. If you and the inspector still disagree, ask to talk to the supervisor of the inspector. If you still disagree with the supervisor you can make an appeal to the Standards and Appeals Board (SAB) or the Administrative Review Apeals Board (ARAB) depending on the nature of the violation. 

Every DNS order issued contains information on how to appeal the order. If you feel the department was unfair or misapplied the code, there is a limited time window to file an appeal and fees may apply.  If you miss that window, you forfiet your appeal rights with little or no recourse. The appeals are heard and decided by a citizen board, not DNS. Detailed appeal information is included at the end of the order. Orders accepted for hearing by and review board halt any DNS enforcement actions until the appeal is heard.

Free Landlord Training 
Often landlords can avoid complaints by keeping illegal activity out of their property. The department offers FREE training on a regular basis to those owning or managing property. See the Landlord Training program for more information.


City of Milwaukee Department of Administration Director Sharon Robinson 

 Monday - Friday, 8:00 AM - 4:45 PM

 Zeidler Municipal Building, 841 N. Broadway, Room 104, Milwaukee, WI 53202

 Lake Tower, 4001 S. 6th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53221



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