■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Dallas Milton, a local landowner, has filed a claim against the City of Hemet for what he alleges is heavy-handed treatment from the city’s Planning Department and Gestapo-like actions of Code Enforcement.
Citizen Milton states: “Approximately 20 years ago my mother and I acquired 16 acres of land on the south side of State Street between Chambers Street and the Domenigoni Parkway. Five years ago we purchased an eight-acre parcel adjacent to our 16 acres, which at the time was a golf driving range, increasing our ownership to 24 acres.”
They were considering several ideas to develop the property that did not immediately come to fruition. However, two years ago Hemet Code Enforcement showed up at his door, alleging complaints about his property. Milton asked the officer what kind of complaints, but didn’t receive an answer. Instead, the officer began to question him about structures on his property.
Milton said the officer told him that the city had done some research and didn’t see where the two structures on his property were ever granted a building permit.’
“However,” said Milton, “when we purchased the original property, it came with a large mobile home behind a barn, a house with a mobile home attached to it. I explained that those structures came with the property and had been there for 40 years. We didn’t build them.”
“We got this complaint,” insisted the code enforcement officer, Milton recalled.
Imagine buying property and all the structures on it when it was located in the County of Riverside 20 years ago. Five years later it’s annexed by the City of Hemet and suddenly some official-looking dude shows up, says he is with the City of Hemet Code Enforcement and you got no right to your honestly-acquired buildings.
Mr. Milton, I would assume, was not only surprised but a whole lot confused. It seemed pretty strange to him.
“I did some research to find out my rights and why the City of Hemet was trying to tamper with them,” he said. The guy who said he was from Code Enforcement told Mr. Milton, “You’ve got two weeks to do your research.”
Milton quickly discovered that the County of Riverside had some problems with its record-keeping. A 1969 fire in the County Records Department destroyed all records for his land. In order to get a permit, building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical plans had to be submitted. If all four passed inspection, building could commence. However, permit plans were not required until 1974.
“I should have been grandfathered in,” says Milton, “because those structures had been on that property for years and years and years. The City of Hemet did not annex the property until 1984.”
That didn’t seem to matter to the guy from Code Enforcement. “You’ll have to prove that to us,” was his response.
At that point, Milton is beginning to wonder just what was going on. “I produced aerial photos of the land all the way back from 1969 to the present; photos that included the current structures. There were no city permits involved when those structures were erected,” he stated.
“I firmly believe that we should have been grandfathered in and I’d explained earlier on, and even agreed to bring everything up to code requirements. I told him that I’d work with his department to make sure whatever work needed to be done was done.” The message back to Milton was that they would have to submit his request to an attorney.
“Two months later I get a letter from an attorney the City had hired. It said I would have to remove those two structures and they gave me about a month in which to do it,” he said. “I was dumbfounded. You do not tell tenants to get out in 30 days when they’ve been there for several years. At best is a 60-day notice by law.”
Of course this came as a shock to his tenants.
“I gave them a proper 60-day notice,” said Milton. “Two of my tenants were medically or physically unable to find a new place to live and I could not be so heartless as to put them out on the street. So I brought them into my own home, where they are now living.” The couple occupying the ranch house was not facing such a complicated future; they were already preparing to move out of state. The fellow who had been living on the ranch for almost 10 years moved into the ranch house, and that is where he still lives.
Now, the home within the barn is also bothering city code enforcers, who claim that isn’t permitted either. The gentleman occupying that space has been living there for 19 years and no one has ever objected. It is more than a barn per se; the building contains a full house with all the proper installations of a home. The prior owner had a horse ranch on the property, says Milton, and during foaling season the owners moved into the barn to be near the mares.
Although Mr. Milton has strived to satisfy the City of Hemet, they either find further reasons to harass him or impose upon his property in other ways, which will be discussed in Part II of this continuing story.
Government can be an inconvenient pest. Sometimes it goes beyond the pale. A lot of folks will just give in and be done with it. Dallas Milton is not one who folds so easily; he believes he should have been grandfathered in and there are a number of knowledgeable individuals who agree with him. Like a television serial, there is more to come.
I would welcome any similar situations, if you would care to let me know.