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Can a building official take pictures of the inside of your house without your permission?

San Carlos, CA |

A building official came to our house for an inspection as a result of a complaint from neighbor that there was unpermitted activity . during the inspection , The building official took pictures of the space without our permission . Is that legal ?

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer
Posted

Generally, a building official is allowed to enter a premises reasonably believed to be in violation and to collect evidence. If you do not allow them on the property, then in most cases they would seek access via court order. However, in most cases the official requests permission to enter the property to inspect for a violation and it is granted by the homeowner. In the later case if permission is granted a homeowner will usually not be allowed to protest at the collection of information/evidence concerning the site visit. Code enforcement officers/building officials commonly take pictures during site visits for the record of what they saw.

Posted

I would presume that if the building official was in your house for legal reasons, that is inspecting for compliance with building or zoning codes, or was conducting a "search" and you consented to letting him in your house, he can take photographs as well. If you are charged with some violation, you may be able to suppress the use of such photos as evidence, but my guess is that it's unlikely since you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy once you let the official in the house. I wouldn't imagine however that he could (or would) use the photos publicly without your permission (i.e., putting them on a website, giving them to some third person).

If there wasn't the unpermitted activity he was looking for, don't worry. If there was, discuss with an attorney, especially if fines or charges are going to result. The photographs are only going to be a small part of the overall matter of whether there was a violation. Hope this helps.

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Asker

Posted

We only let him in since we didn't want for them to resort to an inspection warrant. He inspected the basement and alleges that we did something that existed when we purchased the house several years go. Is the burden of proof on him?

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

Yes, technically the burden of proof is on him, but a lot has to do with the fire and building codes in your area and whether they provide for variances for "grandfathered" conditions, whether you can prove the situation existed before the code change (affidavits from previous owners, old photos, etc.) or whether there is an imminent heath and safety threat that can be remedied at reasonable cost. There may be a board or appeals process. For instance, you may have to put in a smoke detector that didn't used to be required, but probably not a fire escape or elevator. You should consult someone familiar with building codes, like a contractor, and if there's a problem or a potentially expensive enforcement action or remedial work to be done, an attorney.

Posted

It sounds as if you voluntarily let the building official in your house. Did you object when he or she pulled a camera out? If you object to such activity it certainly seems to be an invasion of your privacy outside of the official having a court order.
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Asker

Posted

I did not know that he took pictures as he went into the basement by himself. Afterwards, someone else who was there mentioned that the building officialhad taken the pictures. He did not ask for my permission.

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