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Help advice with code enforcement homestead in Virginia , help advise please.

 
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Hello need some advice recently out of nowhere code enforcement showed up on my land telling me neighbors were concerned i was living back here. Well i am but technically Camping  eventually maybe will have things set up different but now living in a tiny house generating my own power keeping things clean dont bother no one just me and my wife, my 2 neighbors that we cross through their yard every day are wonderful i mean gold they seem to relly like us and we like them.  Recently i believe someone was and has been treapassing on my land weve seen giant boot prints all around our stuff none of no ones buisness but ours.  So idk why people have to be so nosy maybe there the ones after us......it has taken every penny iv had to get here we are technically living off grid. Someone apparently nearby has being nosy  you cant see our houelse through the woods much unless your trying really hard with binocolars or something  only one closest neighbor nearby still tons of trees blocking most of the view.  could be the nearby farmer who also wanted to buy this land apparently i bought it before he could and won it maybe it made him mad at me. But as far as i know someone nearby reported me.   Enforcement guy was a bit of a prick and sort of rude. I told him i was simply camping nothing more pretty clean site overall some junk because im getting ready to build a work shop sooner or later. Anyway i didn't give this guy my name my adress or anything yet. Here where im att on my property there is no adress yet  he wanted to know all kinds of personal info something i guess he did not get yet.... So what am i to do leave things alone will he be back he said he wasnt coming back and he would find out....  he left kind of mad i guess he came onto my property demanding all kinds of information he gave me a card  it pissed me off to say the least

so heres my questions?....should i call him back and tell him something,?   2. what if someone complains again on me not doing anything to anyone btw? Whats the next thing? 3. If i give him info will he be happy will this be the end of that? 4.Will the sherif get involved cant i camp on my own land,?  5.the whole idea was to get the hell away from everything and everyone and have my own peace and privacy but seems hard to do when others are hell bent on tearing your life apart for no reason known to us. We Really are peaceful caring people that stay to themselves. What ground do I have to stand on folks making it seem like we dont have any rights.

anything i can do to protect my self better i have a temporary adress where were staying .....elsewhere we get mail and stuff there.... but were mostly staying on my property for now.... so what am i to do fully invested my life savings kind of hard to do anything differently at this point i cant afford to adhere by there code and they way they would want things im off the road 700ft or so and hard to see anything only a farmers field in front. Thats it  so what am i to do i only feel there are few options.
 
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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Welcome to permies! Sorry to hear of your troubles..

Whether you are allowed to camp on your own land, will depend on local laws; for me, this is the regional district. No idea if it's a county, town, or whatever where you are.. or maybe a state level thing? Best find out...

Regardless, there is some similarity.

The land I own, I am allowed to camp on it for no more than 60 days in a year.

Like you, I have an address in town, where I live. My bills go there. My drivers license shows that address. There is a bedroom there for me, and people who will tell an inquiring SOB that I live there.


I haven't had anyone bother me yet.

I have a gate. I put it up immediately after purchase of the property, in fact in advance of the possession date as I was confident the seller wouldn't care.

My gate has a no trespassing sign on it, and a lock. It stays shut and locked 99% of the time. I also intend to add 'beware of dog' and 'cameras in use' signage.

If they do, I live in town. Yep, there's a tinyhouse here, and sometimes I sleep here. But I live in town.

If I were to say that I live here, I would definitely have a problem. Probably the next step would be a letter telling me I must be off my own land by XYZ day, or pay a daily fine. I strongly doubt it would come to this unless I say the wrong thing... but I could be wrong. It's not like I plan to call city hall to find out...


Pretty fucked up, in my opinion. Like you, I'm not hurting anyone or anything... The thing that I can see is a potential public safety/environmental issue is septic, and I am managing my composting toilet in accordance with best practice. It would be legal, if I paid a bunch of money to someone with a certification to come look at it...



As far as the next step goes... you're gonna have to deal with this BS somehow. Short of moving, or finding a code compliant way to live there, claiming/'proving' you live somewhere else seems like the mostly likely path to success..


If you've got people snooping around, that is bad news. A dog would help. Cameras are good. A gun would be a nice thing to have too...


Good luck!
 
author & gardener
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Phil, welcome to Permies! I'm so sorry you're going through this. Not very comforting to think one has neighbors who trespass, spy, and tattle.

D Nikolls is absolutely correct. You have to find out what your legal rights are in regards to all the things that have already been mentioned. In some places trespassing isn't considered illegal unless you have signs posted every so many feet. Also you need to know what kind of authority this enforcement guy actually has. What's the legal definition and purpose of his department?

My other suggestion is to start to build relationships with your neighbors. Start to reach out, introduce yourself, and be friendly. Newcomers in rural communities are always cause for speculation and suspicion along the grapevine. (It's not necessarily meant to be malicious, it's simply rural entertainment). I'm assuming you're new to the area, so the locals don't know yet that you're peaceful caring people. For all they know, you may be fixing to come in with a bulldozer as big as a barn, tear the place up, and put up an apartment building. So make an effort to let them get to know you. Get to know them. The goal isn't to become BFFs, but to build a positive community relationship. Ask for advice if appropriate (people appreciate that). Maybe tactfully let them know you've had a trespasser and ask their advice on how to handle it. You're new to the area, so ask them what grows well in their gardens, what kind of chickens they like, etc. Offer your help for something as a good neighbor would do. Do the same at the local stores. Wave any time you pass someone on the road. Reaching out in a friendly way is the best way to let your neighbors see that you truly are nice people. Starting off on the right foot can prevent a lifetime of feuding and animosity.
 
gardener
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Phil, Welcome to Permies--again!

I have to say that Leigh and D Nikolls are absolutely correct here--find out what your local codes and laws are.  In my case, my land came with some restrictive covenants.  I own 9 rolling acres of land, but technically it is in a subdivision and when I bought the land I had to agree to some restrictive covenants.  In my case, there were no deal breakers.  I do have to mow my open grassy field once per year and I am not allowed to have and farm equipment visible from the road (I keep mine tucked away).  But some land can come with some pretty strange sounding restrictions.  My personal favorite was a restriction against having anything other that white Christmas lights!  Technically these covenants have the authority of laws, so it pays to find out exactly what the laws/codes/covenants are.  It might pay to hire a local real estate attorney to find out for certain.

Leigh makes great points about getting out to establish friendly contacts with neighbors.  That is a cheap step that can really pay in the future.

Overall, I wish you the best and hope that the codes issue turns out to be a minor detail.

Eric
 
steward
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Hi Phil, welcome to Permies!

Sorry to hear about the challenges you're facing. Here are my thoughts.

Phill Johnston wrote:
so heres my questions?....should i call him back and tell him something,?  



My advice is to notify them to direct all communication to you in writing through the mail. Discussing matters over the phone can become a "he said, she said" conundrum and pretty much amounts to hearsay. Having all communication done via mail with everything in writing, you'll be prepared in the unlikely event you were to be summoned to court, and you'll have proof of what's been going on. This will also really slow things down to a snails pace, allowing time for you to formulate any response, if needed.

2. what if someone complains again on me not doing anything to anyone btw? Whats the next thing?  



I wouldn't worry about it. Speculating what may or may not happen in the future can eat at a persons mental well being. I suggest just crossing this bridge if you ever get to it.

3. If i give him info will he be happy will this be the end of that?



I think it's impossible to forecast how someone will receive your info. Again, I would sit back and do nothing aside from waiting for official mail. You are the rightful land owner.

4.Will the sherif get involved cant i camp on my own land,?  



I don't know if the Sheriff will "get involved", but this person or a deputy may pay a visit, but I doubt it. I think that law enforcement is required to respond and pay a visit if someone complains, though they will likely do nothing. I don't think they can legally ignore complaints, no matter how ridiculous they are.  I'm pretty sure that land owners in America can camp out on their own land.

5.the whole idea was to get the hell away from everything and everyone and have my own peace and privacy but seems hard to do when others are hell bent on tearing your life apart for no reason known to us. We Really are peaceful caring people that stay to themselves. What ground do I have to stand on folks making it seem like we dont have any rights.



I'll second advice others have mentioned, and familiarize yourself with what your legal rights are. I'll also ditto what Leigh and Eric said about connecting with the neighbors. Perhaps bake them a loaf of bread or some muffins and come bearing gifts. Simple kindness is incredibly powerful.



 
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Most building code are in place for one of three reasons...
1: Someone before you left a toxic mess that others had to clean up.
2: Some peoples toxic mess got into the water table, or spread well beyond their borders, or left permanent changes.
3: Most people don't have the courtesy to burn down their "improvements" and leave the land the way they found it...in fact most people want to be paid for "value added" even if the value in question is inadequate, the next generation of owners want to insure these "improvements" and insurance companies want an inspection process....from the first foundation up. Concrete reinforcement, snow load,sane electrical, adequate plumbing doesn't happen by accident....and frequently doesn't happen at all, without permits and inspections, leaving future owners holding the bag, and insurance companies denying future claims because there is no record of inspection.
Neighbors call in authorities because they don't want property values declining because someone started collecting old tires (some of that toxic mess) for an "earthship", or septic leach lines within a few feet of a freshwater stream because the digging was easier, or a thousand other reasons an individuals "freedom" can impact their unfortunate neighbors or entire communities downstream, or just because population density is edging past the local habitat / aquifer's ability to disperse human impact.
If your septic option will be "perfectly legal if you paid the money to get it certified" for heavens sake get it certified why wouldn't you have to bear the same burden as the rest of your community?
Probably all that's needed is some cohesive plan, with some reasonable timeline, but at this juncture, country living looks like a lifeboat on the Titanic in comparison with continued life in the cities. Most of the denizens that had the good sense to leave a long time ago would like to see the invasion kept under control, so showing your compatibility with the community will probably go a long way to widening your options, vs having neighbors eager for that wide open vista you just obscured to be cleared up again....
If a realtor or seller misrepresented the property and its not open to development, your better going after the realtor / or  seller than trying to change the minds of your neighbors, /  county administration.....
Written communications are key to clear, satisfactory results. With every state / city / county agency.
 
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should i call him back and tell him something,?



Responses above have already suggested that you request all future communication to be in writing. Something to keep in mind if you do receive questions is that one never (ever!) volunteers extra information to any official, no matter how innocent the info may seem or how friendly/sympathetic the official appears to be. An enforcers job is to seek out violations, and giving them extra tidbits of info to work with is like inviting the vampire into your home.

A hypothetical example:
Question) Is there a water well on the property?
Answer 1) No.
Answer 2) No. We tried drilling one but it was dry so we abandoned it. There might have been one a long time ago down in the south 40.
 
Phill Johnston
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Thank you everyone so much for your advice. We have been building a relationship with the 2 closer neighbors that are nearby our front driveway they like us a lot. So peaceful and kind. So i dont think any issue with them at all i just finished having a conversation with him about an hour ago and he said i dont know why anyone in the world would do that to yall you dont bother anyone. He pointed to some other neighbors who have recently had the cops at that, place i think over a small fights, and some suspected drug use, whatever their probably the ones who called on us. Typical i suppose.   Yes i will get everything in writing and have them mail me and i will mail them back whatever they want.  and we have brought in no big equipment only a small dump truck a few times over a month ago to lay some gravel down that was it in and out. Everything else land clearing was done all by me with a machate, push mower riding mower and a little pole saw. Ive had the property for almost a year paid for ans the work has been a lot. I have the sight very clean overall. Gravel pad brus trimmed back. Trash taken away every few days. Again no one could see anything of this unless they were snooping which iv already seen boot prints so they have been.  Anyway thanks so much again to all of you it makes me feel so much better having people that are understanding and having my back. Will be on here posting updates when i can.
 
pollinator
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I feel like you've gotten great advice here already. The only little thing I would add is that any written correspondence you may send in the future, to always send it registered with signature required upon receipt. This way you always have proof that you responded and who at whatever office, received it.
I hope everything will be peaceful for you from here on out, however, and that that one visit was the one and only.
 
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just in general terms I would get ahead of the situation. you don't want to have these town or county officials as  enemies. if you own the land and there is a deed that code inspector could have very easily gone back to his office and found out exactly who you were and start to document  the situation and possibly your property though aerial, satellite imagery.
hate to put things this way but they could put you between a rock and hard place in short order if you are violating some ordinance, code or law. I've had dealings myself with code enforcement at previous hours and if you don't do what they say when they say it fines and fees can gobble up the value of your property in no time flat.
if there's no way you can make your living situation so it is not in violation of rules and laws and such. the real estate market is is extremely good right now. ive been through these issues. and spent more than 2 years scoping out where to move so I would never again have to possibly have issues with any type of building and zoning rules.
you want that inspector to be your friend. might want to do what others here suggested and find out exactly what the local codes require. if they put fines on you they can end up taking your property with their lawyers if that's what they want.
don't want to scare you but to realize the reality of what these zoning and code departments are capable of from what ive learned through past experiences of my own.
 
bruce Fine
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just another thought that might could help. if you own the mineral rights to the property you might be able to get through some of the codes or zoning by saying that your prospecting on the property. I've only just begun to learn about prospecting, mining claims and such and know very little about it. like I said---just a thought.
 
pollinator
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Why did he come asking questions in the first place?

Did he tell you what the "concern" was that had him pay the visit?

Could simply be he as checking to ensure someone wasn't squatting on private property; the "attitude" may well have been as he had not yet "verified" who you were.

Perhaps he was given erroneous information by the complainant...

I would be tempted to ring him: "Hello Tom, it's Sam from the property on Oak lane. I fear we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, the other day. My apologies, if I appeared defensive; I was just taken aback by your questions about WHY/WHAT I was doing, when on my own property - to be honest, you were our first ever visitor, and the unexpected nature of your visit caught me off guard and I may have appeared less than friendly.

I realize now, I never actually asked you what, if any specific concerns you might have; is there anything I need to know?"

Something along the lines above; instead of assuming there is a problem, and/or speculating, I would simply ask directly. At least that way you will KNOW what prompted his visit and exactly what his issue(s) or concerns are. He may even be willing to tell you if there is some remedial action you could undertake, at his suggestion, to ensure the situation does not escalate.

I'm suggesting it is possible YOU or your ACTIONS, as the actual landowner, was not the issue. It's possible it may have been as simple as ensuring someone else wasn't abusing private property (druggies, thieves, metal scrappers, meth cookers...) or otherwise engaged in illegal activity in his jurisdiction.

Good luck, trust me it sucks when you get on the bad side of these power hungry little men. I had one make my life miserable for over ten years. Made up all sorts of nonsense I could not fight as it was up to "their discretion". Lived here illegally for two years in our new mobile, before FINALLY he disappeared (quit, fired, retired).

The new person came round, was super helpful, and absolutely agreed that most of the orders had been utterly ridiculous. They apparently cannot actually "rescind" another's violation orders, but instead helped me come up with "work arounds" that satisfied the ridiculous "orders" without me having to actually DO the stupid and unnecessary actions that had been demanded.

A few examples: We have a double wide, on three foot deep rock/compacted gravel base with concrete strip (they run left to right across the width of the trailer) foundations, with tie downs to the concrete. Nimrod insisted we had to install perimeter drains (that we were expressly told by said Nimrod inspector were unnecessary when we sought verification during prelim install inspection). This was ludicrous as the gravel pad was 3 feet deep - and there are no "foundation" to be affected, and there were rain gutters on both sides.

When Nimrod declared this must be done I checked every reg, municipally, regionally, provincial and federally - no requirement. The mobile home company - 40 yrs in business in my district - had NEVER had this be demanded. Yet, when I provided this research, I was simply old that it was at the inspectors discretion as to how the regs were interpreted, and I had no recourse if I wanted an occupancy permit.

He made us do three extra "surveys" - each time for different PRE -EXISTING buildings on the property, onsite decades before I had purchased the property the 15 yrs previously.

He also made us triple survey the new mobile install; before and after the gravel pad was in, and again once the mobile was moved on...then claimed he never received them, as the "weren't in the file" (they were emailed and we had the "received" return email).

This went on for over two years: he failed our stairs (had to be 'non slip'); failed our railings for the front stairs (a standard railing kit from local big box) claiming the space created beneath the bottom board that skimmed the risers was too large; we had to add blocking, and yet passed the exact same set up on the rear stairs...it went on and on and on, every time he would find yet another "substandard" item - although nothing had changed from the initial fail, he somehow kept finding things he had "missed" last time.

Multiple times we did exactly as asked only to be told we should not have taken 'his word' on how to fix something, we should have verified his instructions in the code book!

Each inspection meant at least a months wait as the queue was long.  The last fail was because he decided the crawl space door was 3/4 of an inch too small - the regs said "this many inches by this many inches, for a total opening of this many square inches"; technically ours was larger than required as it was 6 inches higher than it needed to be, but nope, he 'interpreted' the width as insufficient!

Do your best to win him over - trust me, if he decides he want to make your life hell, he will!
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