San Rafael, CA asked in Real Estate Law and Land Use & Zoning for California

Q: Is a legal nonconforming auto service station required to comply with business regulations such as hours, tow yard ?

the neighborhood that I live in has been having ongoing issues with an auto service station. Neighbors have contacted the Code Enforcement unit because of various activities that we believe should not be allowed at that property, including:

painting vehicles outdoors and releasing chemical smells into the neighborhood;

using the property as a vehicle towyard/junkyard (some of the vehicles on the lot have been there for years!);

conducting business until after 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. and sometimes even later;

conducting business on Sunday;

having tow trucks drop cars off at all hours of the night/morning where the beep beep of the backup warning system and clanking of chains wakes people up;

parking customer cars in the nearby residential neighborhood; etc., etc.

County Code Enforcement has said that they cannot do anything because the property is a "legal non-conforming use." Is that true? How can a business be allowed to do whatever it wants?

2 Lawyer Answers
Gerald Barry Dorfman
Gerald Barry Dorfman
  • Real Estate Law Lawyer
  • Mill Valley, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Even though it may not be a code enforcement issue, it may still constitute a "nuisance". Private parties, with very limited exceptions, can not bring a legal action for a "public" nuisance, but they may bring an action for a private nuisance. If you can't get the City Council to have the City attorney look into a public nuisance abatement action, you can discuss hiring an attorney and bringing a private nuisance action with your neighbors.

Maurice Mandel II
Maurice Mandel II
  • Newport Beach, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: To my understanding an auto paint shop has to comply with very strict air quality controls. Do you have a video of them painting cars? The last shop I dealt with had to install a $60,000 air filtration system. I think you are dealing with the wrong departments to shut them down, Code enforcement may not be your best friend. You might want to contact a real estate practitioner that handles zoning issues, perhaps Ms. Gurevich or Ms. Bergman on Justia would be good for you or even Mr. Alzamora.

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