Bureaucrats, Scorned

An 83-year-old La Quinta, California woman may soon go to jail because city officials say one of her home's bedrooms should really be a garage.

"What right do they have to call this a garage?" she asked, walking around the room with its cabinets, sink, bathroom and refrigerator. "I never called it a garage. How do they know it's not a bedroom? If this is a garage, then they owe me a bedroom."

For 18 months now, code enforcement officials have been after Camargo to turn the bedroom back into a garage. Insisting that her home is her castle, she has ignored more than a dozen warnings.

Her resistance crumbled last week when a local judge ordered her to comply or face possible jail time.

"It's traumatic. It's like tearing my house down," she said. "I bought this place 30 years ago, and it was always a bedroom. And now they are trying to shove this down my throat."

City building and safety director Tom Hartung said that an illegally converted garage poses health and safety risks but that going to court is a last resort.

"To say we should not enforce the ordinances based on the demographics of the owner of the property is unrealistic," he said. "We can't do that."

Camargo says the room was a bedroom when she bought the house.  She doesn't want or need a garage, and doesn't have the money to turn it into one.  I'm not an architect or building inspector, but I have a hard time envisioning any "public safety" concerns grave enough to make all of this necessary.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • xx||

    Didn't you know. They have no other problems in La Quinta.

  • ||

    City building and safety director Tom Hartung said that an illegally converted garage poses health and safety risks but that going to court is a last resort.

    Who says it was "illegally converted"? What specific risks does it pose? Or are you just being an asshole because you can and you need to justify your paycheck?

  • Minion||

    It means that IllegalCarpenters converted the GarageBedroom.

    Probably ManBearPig was the UnionForman.

    call theSolitaryWackJob!

  • LarryA||

    I have a hard time envisioning any "public safety" concerns grave enough to make all of this necessary.

    Particularly if they haven't shown up after thirty years. There's no statute of limitations on failure to get a city building permit?

  • Hogan||

    There are some legitimate fire risks with converted garages. I guess this is somewhat of an issue in several places in SoCal - if you Google around you'll find stuff about an enforcement effort in Long Beach following a garage fire with three fatalities and something else in Escondido. I am too lazy to link.

    From the Escondido article:

    Escondido fire Chief Vic Reed said last week that the council's concerns about illegal garage conversions are justified.

    "You get these overcrowded conditions where people are living in there, and you've got one exit," Reed said. "When these things are not built to code ... if the fire were to start late in the evening, the people would be trapped and would have no way to get out."

    Such structures often have a wall in place of a garage door and may not have windows, he said. And because heating or air-conditioning ducts rarely are extended to the garage in an illegal conversion, portable heaters often are used as well, creating a fire risk.

    Fire Marshal Mike Lowry said the wall of a garage often creates extra protection, acting as a fire buffer that may prevent a blaze from spreading to the rest of the house. However, if a garage door can't be opened because an illegally built wall is blocking it, that makes containing the fire more difficult and risky, he said.

    "It forces the firefighters to go in through the house, with the potential spread of the fire in having to open that place (the garage) up," Lowry said.

    Besides fire risks, carbon dioxide poisoning also is a danger in an enclosed room with little ventilation, Reed said. Any appliances in the garage, such as an improperly vented water heater, can poison the air with the tasteless, odorless gas.

    "People can be in there talking and they can get sleepy, and before they know what's happening to them they're unconscious and they can die," Reed said.


    I work in zoning and am often aggravated at the disconnect between the reasonable purpose of a code and generally useless or counterproductive enforcement.

  • ||

    "To say we should not enforce the ordinances based on the demographics of the owner of the property is unrealistic,"

    The rest of the quote:
    "To say that we should not enforce the ordinances for 28 years and then enforce them to excess, though, is pretty damn reasonable."

  • The Extispicator||

    The evil bitch is trying to bring down our nation. She must be imprisoned, if not killed.

  • ||

    Okay, let's go with the fire marshal angle: by that logic ALL houses should have garages, and you should never be in your garage you because you don't have proper ventilation and you might pass out and die in it for all the same reasons as when it's a converted garage.

    Can she park a car in there and call it good?

    (By the way, that looks an awful lot like a kitchen, not a bedroom.)

  • bubba||

    So the problem is that this room might not have the legally required number of fire exits, as in windows/doors? Can't she just add a window or door?

  • Ryo||

    "Her troubles began when a code enforcement officer spotted a light shining from her garage into the street, a code violation. He noticed her trash cans in front of the house (another violation) and weeds poking through the concrete (yet another one)."

    Paddling the school canoe...ooh, you better believe that's a paddling erm, code violation.

    Seriously though, a light shining from the garage into the street is a code violation. I'm at a loss for words.

  • Mike Laursen||

    She doesn't want or need a garage...

    She so needs to paint Mr. Hartung and the city as environment destroyers.

  • anarch||

    Can she park a car in there and call it good?

    Easier: Can she call herself a cab?

  • alan||

    So if Marlo Stanfield were to convert his garage to a little pad for Chris and Snoop to pal around in while planning the next territorial take over we can expect safety director Tom Hartung to issue the same citations and warnings and bullying that he is carrying on against this 87 year old woman. I kind of find that hard to believe.

  • OBEY!||

    OR WE WILL DESTROY YOU!

    ahem

    what I meant to say is

    I'm from the government, and I'm here to help...

  • ||

    In my county, it's a question of how many off-street parking spaces you have per bedroom. I think you need one less parking space than the number of bedrooms. If you have a three-bedroom house, you're fine with a one-car garage and room to park another car behind the garage in the driveway, but if you convert the garage to a bedroom, you are short two parking spaces.

  • Dello||

    Hogan,
    "And because heating or air-conditioning ducts rarely are extended to the garage in an illegal conversion, portable heaters often are used as well, creating a fire risk."

    Does this mean that, since I have niether heating nor air-conditioning ducts in my garage (used as a garage), that the portable heater I use out there is a fire risk?

    Shouldn't all garages, even detached ones like mine, be banned from having any heating at all unless it's an extension of the house unit, to avoid a fire hazard?

    I think so.

    /snark

  • Dello||

    Atabrat,

    I'm so slow it's not even close.

  • alan||

    In my county, it's a question of how many off-street parking spaces you have per bedroom.

    I find that regulation to be silly on its face, but then again, according to all the learned people in the media, I'm a libertarian and therefore I don't live in the real world so how would I be able to judge what is silly or sound?

  • ||

    1) I wonder if her tax appraisal sees it as a garage or a bedroom?
    2) It really looks like a very nice space.

    3) Code enforcement officers like this asshole should be employed as target holders on the live fire ranges at Edwards AFB.

  • Dave B.||

    Just curious here, but what's the legal definition of a garage? Is the main contention here that the garage door is a wall and won't open? Or is it illegal to decorate a garage as if it were a bedroom?

  • ||

    Nevertheless, the city finally took the gloves off. Code enforcement showed up recently with three inspectors, two police officers and a search warrant.
    ...
    "They pushed right in," he said. "I said, 'What's this about?' but they were busy taking pictures. When I asked why they were taking pictures, the police asked me for my ID. I asked why they needed my ID, and they put me in handcuffs."


    They only do things like this because they care.

    Fucking assholes.

  • Dello||

    From the picture, it appears to have a door to the outside and the article says that it has a whole wall of windows.

    "City building and safety director Tom Hartung said that an illegally converted garage poses health and safety risks but that going to court is a last resort."

    OK, but does THIS garage pose a health and safety risk, or are you just pissed off because someone built it 30 YEARS ago without permission?

  • ||

    This relates back to a discussion on another thread today about the relative assholeness of local versus state/national governments.

  • Fresno Bob||

    Hogan,

    Fire is not really an issue. Well at least not the spread of fire. La Quinta is in the Coachella Vally, which is an honest to god, sand as far as the eye can see desert. If I lived there I'd buy Lawrance of Arabia garb and a camel to ride around town.

  • miche||

    What is it with little old ladies and cops lately? I started to blog about the aforementioned situation but chose to focus on this lady instead.

  • Dello||

    miche,

    I zillowed the address. There is an open grass field about a block away with 10x the space to play in. Little fucks. And fuck the parents.

  • ||

    Quick someone start an initiative to eliminate smart growth and use her in your ad campaign.

    Fuck I wish this was in Washington State.

  • ||

    "To say we should not enforce the ordinances based on the demographics of the owner of the property is unrealistic," he said. "We can't do that."

    Am I messed up or is that the worst usage of the word "demographics" ever?

  • Franklin Harris||

    My neighbors turned their garage into a bedroom. (My family used to own that house back when the bedroom was a garage.) Lucky for them, while the state of Alabama may try to tell you what you can or can't do in a bedroom, it won't tell you that you can't turn a garage into a bedroom. That's why I prefer Alabama to California: The stupid rules here are easier to break without getting caught.

  • Gene Berkman||

    "...while the state of Alabama may try to tell you what you can or can't do in a bedroom, it won't tell you that you can't turn a garage into a bedroom."

    So Franklin, can you then turn your bedroom into a garage? That way, if the state can tell you what you can't do in your own bedroom, maybe you can do it in your garage. That could open up some "room" for being kinky.

  • Robert Goodman||

    I was sure the punch line was gonna be, "...but the room was on the 2nd story and would've required a ramp to be built to convert it to a garage."

  • ||

    City building and safety director Tom Hartung said that an illegally converted garage poses health and safety risks

    To whom?

  • Hogan||

    btw I'm in 100% agreement that this regulation is stupid. but as far as dumb building codes go, this one has more justification than is typical, which isn't saying much. folks in the zoning/building code business love fire safety issues because they provide a patina of proper public purpose to their careers of regulating everybody's property enjoyment because they can and therefore must.

  • ||

    Well obviously, there are risks. If you convert a garage to a bedroom without getting the local thugs' approval first, you run the risk of being imprisoned.

    Can anyone recommend a neighborhood where anyone trying to harass a little old lady like this was in serious peril of taking a couple rounds of rock salt in is ass? Texas? Montana maybe?

    -jcr

  • Abdul||

    Moe: Hey, fellas, the garage. Well, ooh la-di-da, Mr. Frenchman.

    Homer: Well, what do you call it?

    Moe: A car hole.

  • Reformed Republican||

    He noticed her trash cans in front of the house (another violation) and weeds poking through the concrete (yet another one)."

    Fuck you. They are not weeds. They are wildflowers.

  • ||

    They took me to court last year. I have been disabled sence 1998, and could not afford a gardener. So my yard did not look the best and the registration had run out on my RV. The La Quinta Lawn Nazi's harassed me to no end, ended up taking my mentally ill Wife and I to court with the intent to jail us. Thank God for Family and our public defender's or we would be getting two hots and a cot.I wonder how many tax dollars were waisted on us. They were really mad when I was able to make the Judge happy enough to drop the charges. Then my house burnt down. Hmmmm?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement