— By Scott Smith —

Better understanding issues of exterior code infractions ­at retail and restaurant facilities.

Retail locations often struggle with handling issues of code compliance, rightfully so as they can be challenging and lengthy to navigate. Hopefully this article can give some insight as to how to tackle and navigate through local code compliance issues. The focus will be on exterior landscaping issues to not only curtail fines but to keep your local community happy while not disrupting your core business.

Many times, retail or restaurant management teams do not understand code infractions, or know how to navigate through municipalities’ code infraction letters of violations, breaches or fines they are being assessed and don’t know where to turn.

Sometimes these infractions have been put to the side and are now accruing fines daily as windows for corrections have been missed or ignored.

This could’ve happened because previous letters or notices have gone to a building landlord or other entities, because there may be shared responsibilities. The violation could’ve gone to the corporate office where it sits awaiting legal review, or it simply wasn’t understood when it was opened by a team member.

Understanding and remembering that these letters are coming from the local governing bodies, these violations by the municipality not only should be recognized but given the respect they demand and deserve. Doing business in these communities is a privilege that we should always remember and embrace because a negative partnership with the local community can reflect badly on a business. Management should always embrace a path to correct the violation swiftly and efficiently while working in tandem with these local governing bodies that are charged with enforcing community standards and codes. The process of achieving compliance should be embraced, not shunned, as a matter of requirement and responsibility.

What should you do if you receive a letter or business card or visit from your local code enforcement team about an exterior issue?

1. The first and most important thing you should do is call your local code compliance officer who issued you the warning letter or fine and let them know you are going to get to work on it right away. Ask when the deadline for compliance is and request an extension if necessary to achieve a solution. Many code enforcement officers are amenable and will grant extensions of time if simply asked, as long as they know that you’re working to resolve the problem.

2. Next, let them know that your goal and intent is the same as theirs — to be in compliance — and you are equally aligned with their goal of maintaining or exceeding the community’s standards.

I’ve personally seen fines for non-compliance that had been ignored for 2 years turn into $75,000 — yet once we engaged with the local code enforcement team and let them know we shared their goal to get compliant and began working with them, they waived the past due $60,000-plus fees and only required our retail partner to (1) get in compliance and (2) pay the newly accrued fines of around $12,000.

Time and time again we have found that communication is paramount in situations of code compliance. Many times, for various reasons, code violations go unaddressed for long periods of time, and fines get assessed along the way. Fines can multiply quickly through non-compliance and are often court sanctioned. Our company has gotten involved in numerous cases such as these and through open dialogue and an earnest effort toward a solution, we have found most code officers extremely receptive to having someone working toward a remedy. Communities typically engage the fine stage of a violation as a last resort and don’t issue violations for a source of revenue. The local municipalities simply want their standards enforced, to preserve the community for all within. Often, the local authority will reduce or waive all fines if the path to solution is communicated and achieved.

If you don’t understand the infraction, or if you simply don’t have the time to take away from the disruption it would cause your core business with the time involved, simply look to entrust your exterior facilities management team to handle and carry this task for you. If you don’t have one, find a credible one with a background in successful mitigation of corrective actions that are fast, swift and most cost effective for you and your brand. Remember, while a good company can handle these situations with ease, a bad one can exacerbate the issue.

What not to do when you receive the visit, card or letter?

1. Do not ignore the violation as it isn’t going away; in fact, it will only grow into a larger (and more expensive) issue.

2. Do not hesitate to address the violation in a timely manner; failing to do so will only serve to frustrate and sometimes anger the local governing body and the code enforcement arm. Many of them see this as a sign of disrespect.

3. If you are going to be the one engaging the code officer, don’t over promise but be realistic with them on timelines. If you don’t understand the entirety of what the violation entails, ask them to meet you on-site so that they can articulate all areas of concern so that compliance can be achieved.



• overgrown retention pond areas

• obstructed inlet and outlet areas in ponds

• clogged drains

• high weeds

• shrub trimming (or lack of trimming)

• fencing or Dumpster enclosures in disrepair or with broken/missing sections

• graffiti

• signs of mildew/stains

• broken parking blocks

• handicap-accessible area missing signage, ramps or deteriorating pavement, as well as the safety paint fading

• homeless encampments

• illegal dumping

• tree removal, or trees replaced without the proper species or caliper to match the original plan or without permits

• invasive trees or plants

— Scott Smith is president of Emerald Lawn and Landscaping, a family owned and operated business for the past 32 years; the company has served as a full-service FM contractor for more than 20 years as well. Emerald Lawn and Landscaping specializes in cost-effective, fast turnarounds to all your time-sensitive needs. Emerald has vast knowledge in building trades, code enforcement corrective action, dark site monitoring, building rehab, exterior, grounds maintenance and proactive snow and ice management.

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