Complaints, and Public Record
Q: My city’s Code Enforcement department has many pages of complaints about the building in which I’m living. I am collecting documentation, and I would like a copy of the pages (I think there are 5) of complaints they’ve had about this building. I imagine that these are public record, as Code Enforcement is a public department, but I want to be sure. These complaints are public record, correct? Is there any code, court case, law, etc., I should quote/give them in relation to this? (ie – They say, “We can’t give you a copy of complaints, that’s not public.” I say, “Actually, according to code ______, I am entitled to these records, as they are public.”) Please note: I am seeking the list of complaints, as opposed to the lists of violation notices given to the building owner/manager by the Code Department. This is because, according to other tenants, they often complain and the Code Department does not issue the owner/manager a violation list. My (vague) understanding is that this is because the building was constructed in 1906, so conditions which would be violations for more modern buildings are not, legally speaking, violations in this building because it only needs to adhere to code laws that existed when it was originally constructed, 100 years ago. Thank you again for providing me with information, I greatly appreciate it.
A: Under the California Public Records Act, a public record includes “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Cal. Govt. Code §6252(e). The Public Records Act defines a “local agency” as a “county; city, whether general law or chartered; city and county; school district; municipal corporation; district; political subdivision; or any board, commission or agency thereof…” Cal. Govt. Code §6252(a). The Pasadena Code Enforcement Department would likely qualify as a local agency.
Records of a local agency are presumed public unless one of the Public Record Act’s exemptions applies. These exemptions can be found at Government Code Sections 6254 and 6255. It is not immediately apparent that any such exeption would apply in this case.
For purposes of your attempt to gain these complaints, the California Public Records Act can be found at sections 6250-6270 of the California Government Code. When making your request, you may want to submit your specific request in writing. The Public Records Act requires a public agency to respond to a request within 10 days. Cal. Govt. Code §6253(c). If your request is made in writing, then the response must be in writing. Gov. Code § 6255. In that response, if the agency is not claiming an exemption from disclosure, it is required to state “the estimated date and time when the records will be made available.” Gov. Code § 6253(c). In your request, you may want to specifically mention the Public Records Act, and remind the Code Enforcement Department that they are required to offer a written response within ten days, which must notify of the reasons for the decision. A sample PRA request letter is available on the CFAC web site at http://www.cfac.org/templates/cpraletter.html.
The Public Records Act can be found at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=06001-07000&file=6250-6270.