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Sacramento homeowner fined $573,000 for working on old cars in his backyard

Andrew Lloyd/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A retired homeowner in Sacramento, California, has been ordered to pay a whopping $573,000 in city code violation fines stemming largely from his penchant for working on old cars in his backyard, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Dan Altstatt, 83, recently lost his legal effort to challenge the fines when an appeals court judge ruled the city of Sacramento acted justly in imposing the penalties.

In his challenge, Altstatt argued the city's code enforcement actions infringed upon his constitutional rights as property owner and contended that the city's fines are excessive. He added that he is unable to pay the fines and would become "homeless and penniless" if his house was seized as a result.

But Judge Louis Mauro ultimately found Altstatt's arguments to be lacking, calling them "unfocused and difficult to discern." The judge also cited as precedent a 2000 San Francisco case in which courts ruled $663,000 in fees for continued code violations were not constitutionally excessive.

According to the Bee, Altstatt's case dates all the way back to 2014 when he brought a van and other vehicles into his backyard, triggering a code enforcement penalty.

In a blog post published in April, the city clarified that it began receiving complaints from neighbors about Altstatt's "accumulation of junk and debris" on the property, which included fruit from fallen trees as well as "inoperable vehicles."

City officials sent him a notice and "order to abate the nuisances" but when Altstatt refused to comply, they sued. In the meantime, the city was levying $250 per day fines on Altstatt that eventually amounted to more that $500,000.

In searches of Altstatt's property over the years, the city claimed that it discovered multiple violations of unlawful storage of excessive junk including "metal objects, propane tanks, broken appliances, automotive parts, gasoline canisters, liquid cleansers and solvents, paint cans, and boxes full of miscellaneous trash and plastic waste."

Altstatt has since removed the vehicles and cleared the junk, but he argues that the city has no right to exercise such control over his private property.

In an email to the Bee, he said, "That the city can charge such exorbitant and unreasonable fees for having things in the backyard is beyond belief. 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."

He subsequently told the outlet that he is prepared to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court and take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

The city seems unflinching in its position against the homeowner. Yet, Tim Swanson, the city's media and communications manager, did claim in a follow-up statement that "the City of Sacramento remains open to working with Mr. Altstatt and to resolving this issue in a fair and just way."

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