An East Sacramento homeowner this month lost his effort to challenge city code violations that piled up to $573,000 when a state appeals ruled the city acted properly in his case.
Retiree Dan Altstatt, 83, said he does not have the money to pay the judgment, and he worries his house will be seized.
The case dates to 2014, when Altstatt brought a van and other vehicles into his backyard, triggering a code enforcement penalty.
The appeals court ruling notes Altstatt contested the city’s code enforcement actions that year. The city sued him in 2015, and he has battled the city in court since then, recently acting as his own attorney.
Altstatt at the appeals court argued the fees infringed on his constitutional rights as a property owner, and he contended the fees were excessive.
“Defendant’s argument is unfocused and difficult to discern,” 3rd District Court of Appeal Judge Louis Mauro wrote in the ruling.
Mauro cited a 2000 San Francisco case, in which courts ruled a $663,000 fee for ongoing code violations was not constitutionally excessive, as precedent.
City spokesman Tim Swanson referred to court filings and a blog post about Altstatt the city published after The Sacramento Bee featured Altstatt in an April news story. The city was waiting until the appeals court decision before taking action on the $573,000, the blog post said.
“The City of Sacramento remains open to working with Mr. Altstatt and to resolving this issue in a fair and just way,” the city blog post said.
Homeowner inherited cars
Altstatt in 2014 parked an old van in his fenced backyard, where he worked on it on the grass — a code violation.
He also had at least five other vehicles on the property, some of which he inherited when his brother died, he said.
A neighbor complained, and the city cited him, claiming all the vehicles appeared to be inoperable. It also issued violations for other backyard items — car parts, generators, propane tanks and fruit that had fallen off his orange and grapefruit trees.
Altstatt has since removed the inoperable vehicles and other items.
His H Street house, a block from the affluent Fab 40s neighborhood, looks neat and tidy from the street, painted white with blue trim. The fenced backyard is mostly empty, with the exception of a patio set. He keeps a few old operable vehicles in the driveway.
Calls Sacramento penalty ‘exorbitant’
He still owes $573,000 in code violations — which accumulated over years with penalties of $250 per day.
“That the city can charge such exorbitant and unreasonable fees for having things in the backyard is beyond belief,” Altstatt said in an email after reading the judgment. “I don’t know how they are able to do this. It is perplexing how disputed allegations of so-called ‘junk and debris’ in a person’s backyard can escalate to the point where the city owns your property.”
Altstatt plans to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, where it has a very low chance of being heard, he said. He said he then plans to take it to the US Supreme Court.
Sacramento has a process by which property owners can appeal a code violation, the city blog post about Altstatt said. It also offers extensions and support with compliance plans.