Housing Court

When the City charges an individual or entity with a housing code violation, that is a criminal case that comes before the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court. The maximum penalties are generally six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for an individual and a $5,000 fine for an entity. Each day such a violation occurs or continues could potentially constitute a separate offense.

I received a summons and complaint for a Housing Code violation. Is this a criminal case?
Yes. Complaints filed by the City of Cleveland Heights for alleged violations of the City’s Health, Housing, Building, Fire, or Safety Codes are criminal, misdemeanor cases.

Can I be sentenced to jail in a code violation case?
Yes. The maximum penalty for an individual in a code violation offense is a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. The maximum penalty for an entity in a code violation offense is a $5,000 fine. Depending upon how the City charges it, each day a property is found to be in non-compliance could represent a separate offense. In addition, the sentence may include Court-supervised probation. The maximum penalty for a minor misdemeanor (a ticketed offense like improper disposal of all garbage) is a $150 fine for individuals and a $500 fine for entities.

Do I need an Attorney? What if I can’t afford one?
As a defendant in a criminal case, you have the right to be represented by an attorney and the right to a reasonable postponement of your case to allow you to hire one. If the Court determines that you cannot afford an attorney, the Court may arrange to have an attorney assigned to represent you at no cost. You must let the Judge know at the beginning of your hearing if you want an attorney but cannot afford one.
While you have the right to be represented by an attorney, you are not required to have one. Many defendants appear without an attorney, which is called appearing “pro se.” You may wish to consult with an attorney before your hearing to decide whether you would like an attorney to appear with you in court.

What if I need more time to correct the violation?
The Court and the City have a diversion program for certain owner-occupied properties. If you qualify for the program, the criminal case is held in abeyance to give you time to correct the violation. If it is fixed within a reasonable time, the case is dismissed. If it is not, the fact that you could be removed from the program and found guilty of the criminal offense.
If you do not qualify for that program but admit that the violation exists and simply need more time to make the corrections, you can enter a no-contest or guilty plea and provide the Court with a compliance plan. The Court may suspend most of the fines and all of the jail time. Then, the Court will review and approve a compliance plan. If you complete the work within the timeframe of the compliance plan, the Court will close out the case with no further fines and costs. If you fail to complete the work within the timeframe of the compliance plan without reasonable excuse, the Court may, at its discretion, find you in violation and issue some or all of the previously suspended sentence.

What factors does the Judge consider when sentencing a defendant for code violations?
In sentencing a defendant for code violations, the Judge considers a number of factors. These may include the nature of the violations, the severity of the violations, the length of time the violations have existed, the attempts made by the defendant to remedy the violations, the cost of repair of the violations, and whether the repairs have been completed. The Judge may also consider whether the premises are owner-occupied or rental property. The Judge may consider the defendant’s income or, when relevant, the profits from the property. The Judge will hear from and consider the input from both the defendant and the City prosecutor, and may consider input from other interested parties, including neighbors. The ultimate sentence, however, is determined by the Judge.

I do not own the property for which I was cited; I take care of it for my parents. Can I still be cited for the violations?
Possibly. In code violation cases, the City may choose to cite and bring criminal charges against the owner, the owner’s agent or other person in control of the premises, or both.

I have sold the property for which I was cited. Doesn’t this resolve the case?
No. The issue before the Court is whether you were in control of the property as of the compliance date alleged in the complaint. Selling or transferring the property does not necessarily absolve you of criminal liability. The Judge may consider the sale of the property when deciding upon a sentence. If you sold the property before you were cited, you should bring a certified copy of the deed, showing the transfer date, with you to court.

I have made all of the requested repairs, yet I received a court date in the mail. Do I still need to come to court?
Yes. Do not ignore your court date. A warrant may be issued for your arrest if you fail to come to court. The legal issue before the court is whether the violations alleged existed as of the compliance date. The Judge may consider repairs completed after the compliance date when deciding upon a sentence; however, repairs done after the compliance date may not constitute a defense to the charge. In addition, while you may know that repairs have been made, the information may not reach the City inspector, City prosecutor, and, most importantly, the Judge, if you do not come to court. If you have made the requested repairs, bring photographs showing the work with you to court.