GRAFTON, Mass. – Grafton Building Inspector Robert Berger has been given the go-ahead to take 20 property owners to court for long-time building and zoning violations.
The backlog dates back to 2008, when the town was considering a bylaw that would have allowed Berger to issue fines for such infractions. With another attempt at a non-criminal disposition bylaw not expected until fall 2013, Berger recently asked the Board of Selectmen for approval to move to a legal solution.
"I've told them there's an infraction, I've written cease and desist letters," Berger said. "I've been frustrated that we've had no resolution on these cases."
The infractions range from roosters kept without a permit in violation of the town's backyard chicken ordinance to decks and above ground pools that straddle property lines and were built without a permit. In one instance, a towing business is allegedly being operated out of a residential garage.
Berger said he doesn't go out searching for these infractions. Most often, they are reported by frustrated neighbors or discovered while the building department is inspecting a nearby property. To document the case, Berger frequently turns to Google Earth for satellite images.
Taking the cases to court isn't cheap. It costs the town $1,000 just to file, Berger said.
"That's $20,000 right off the bat," Berger said of the total cost to bring the 20 cases to court. "We've already won our first case, but it's getting appealed. It's going to take some time to work through these."
Berger said he would prefer to simply work with the property owners outside of the courtroom to clear the backlog.
"If you've gotten a letter from the building department that says you built a deck without a permit or you've got a rooster in violation of our backyard chicken bylaws, you have to comply," Berger said. "It's not going to go away."