Cities in California can no longer tack on exorbitant legal fees to settle minor local code violations, thanks to a new law enacted this week.
The law makes it illegal for cities and counties to charge defendants for the legal costs to investigate, prosecute or appeal a criminal violation of a local ordinance.
"We made the argument that, yes, people should comply with local code enforcement laws, but violations should remain in the civil side of prosecution instead of the criminal side," says Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat from Coachella. He co-sponsored the bill with Republican Chad Mayes, of Yucca Valley.
The law was spurred in part by an NPR report and a series in the Desert Sun newspaper earlier this year. Those reports showed how some cities in Southern California contracted with private law firms to recover the cost of enforcing what are mostly minor code violations.
The practice saddled some homeowners with massive legal bills they couldn't afford to pay.