Code Enforcement, Coffee Grounds, Emergency Preparedness

I have just received a code enforcement violation letter for some problems I was not aware of at my building. I typically keep my property in good order, but a few maintenance items may have slipped by. The violation letter has me very upset, as the problems mentioned are minor. How do I make this all go away? What do I do first?


Dear Bill:

It is always a bit upsetting to have someone else tell you what to do with your property. The first thing to understand about a code violation letter is that it is not a personal attack. Look at the violation letter as an opportunity. The city is giving you a heads up to potential problems at your building. You may have a drug or gang issue you were not aware of or landscaping issues, or even deferred maintenance issues.

Essentially, it is a wakeup call to pay closer attention to your building and neighborhood. The first thing to do when you get a code enforcement violation letter is to call the city and speak to the code enforcement department. Make the call with an open mind and calmly get the facts. The purpose of the call is to let the code enforcement department know you are aware of the situation, you are cooperative and willing to resolve the issue. Keeping the lines of communication open with the city is essential to solving your current issue.

Should you need more time to compete the corrections, contact the officer in charge of your case and ask for an extension. The violation will not go away if you ignore it!

Take before and after pictures of the repairs or issues. Upon correction of the violations, call the code enforcement department and let them know the work is complete. The faster they sign off on the violation letter the better.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am updating my resident move-in letter about the proper usage of the appliances in the unit and I have a question about coffee grounds. I have always heard it is bad to put coffee grounds down the garbage disposal unit, but I don’t know why. The grounds are finely ground and should pass through the disposal with no problem. Can you enlighten me?


Dear Lenny:

The problem with coffee grounds is most people just dump the contents of the coffee machine into the drain and don’t use enough water to wash it away. What happens with the coffee grounds, especially with back-to-back drains, is that the coffee grounds tend to pile up in the pipe as it goes through the wall. Over time it will pack the pipe completely.

The garbage disposal does not have trouble with the grounds themselves, it’s what happens after they leave the disposal. Again, if the coffee grounds are fed slowly into the disposal with plenty of water running, the grounds will disperse and not compact in the drain line. Unfortunately, we find most residents are not really patient enough and just dump the grounds and go.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have given my residents information on how to prepare a personal emergency preparedness kit for their families. My question for you is: does my apartment or commercial building need an emergency preparedness kit? If so, what should be in it?


Dear Diana:

A quick list of what should be in your family disaster preparedness kit: flashlight with batteries, canned goods, a gallon of water per person, a knife, meds, and blankets at a minimum. Now this works OK for a family, but may not be appropriate for an apartment building. The residents may very well shelter in place during a disaster and be fine. What may be in danger is your property! Start with a bit of preventive disaster maintenance:

1. Locate the main water shut-off valve and any minor shut-off valves. Make sure the valves are in working order. If they are gate valves, it might be time to upgrade them to ball valves. Old gate valves are notorious for breaking valve stems at the moment you need them to work.
2. Locate and clearly mark the main electrical panel.

3. Locate and mark the main sewer clean-out. Run a mainline snake or hydro jet at least once a year. (A Friday evening main back-up is a disaster.)
4. Locate and mark themain gas or fuel oil shut-off valve.
5. Write down and post this information in a public area of your apartment building, including emergency phone numbers and how to get a hold of management. Alternatively, post this information on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door in each rental unit.


WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men” column, please send in your questions to:

If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956-8371. Frank Alvarez is a licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer and educational instructor for the Apartment Association. Frank can also be reached at For more info please go to: Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker and has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.