A building inspector came to my home and placed a red tag stop work order on my fence. Now they tell me I owe them 1000 in penalties for not getting a permit for an existing building that has been here for at least 60 years (rough cut 2x4) and an additional they state is attached to the mobilehome. They demanded I get a permit for these so they can come out and inspect. One building has been up for 11 years and the other has been for 60. My neighbors called some number and reported it. No one really knows when either building was put up and they are holding us responsible for the permits. What can we do to stop them from charging us 1000 in penalties? We are below the poverty level and I believe they are trying to force me out of this home. What happens if I ignore it?
Taking your questions in reverse order, if you ignore it, it won't be good, just like ignoring some strange growth on your body wouldn't be good and for the same reason.
If you are truly at the poverty level, you should be able to get a public assigned counsel, public defender, legal aid or pro bono attorney to assist you. Ask at the Court Clerk's office or call the local bar association.
As to the merits, and your first question, generally speaking, for constitutional reasons (relating to the prohibition on "ex post facto laws"), if your building or structure existed prior to the zoning ordinance or building code whose violations are being complained of, the building is "grandfathered" and the municipality nor your neighbors can take action against it or require compliance or fine you for noncompliance. The neighbors or the code enforcement officer might not know this, however, and it's up to you to prove it to them.
A simple call or visit to the code enforcement officer might make this problem go away. Take whatever evidence you have that the building existed before the ordinance (old photos, etc.) if you have it, if you don't, your testimony may be enough. The municipality should have tax and assessment records that document the year of initial construction.
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