Residents in Phoenix's Willo Historic District facing fines for walls higher than 6 feet

Neighbors living in a historic Phoenix neighborhood say they were shocked when threatened with a letter saying they were violating a city ordinance having to do with the wall height for their homes.

Neighbors in the Willo Historic District say this is the first they've heard of a problem after living there for years. Now, people who have lived there for decades are suddenly facing potential fines or worse.

"It’s supposed to be six foot," said Eric Chapman who got a letter from the city of Phoenix last year saying his wall was just too tall.

He was told to fix it or face the consequences.

Chapman says he's been trying to get into contact with the city since February. He's been living in the house for 12 years and never heard a peep about not being in compliance.

"Not a word," he said. "And there are people who’ve been here for 40 or 50 years in the same boat."

Historic neighborhoods typically cap the wall height at six feet.

Chapman's wall is about six feet and two inches high, but he’s possibly facing thousands in fines.

Neighbors say it started because of a much taller 7-foot wall.

"We are assuming they got notified of a violation and during the pandemic. They went around and turned in we’re guessing 40 to 50 homeowners," Chapman said.

The city of Phoenix said their neighborhood services department investigates based on complaints. The city’s letter says people in violation can face $2,500 dollars a day in fines or even jail time.

However, Chapman says he just can’t get the city to hear him out.

"In my opinion, it’s a demonstration of bureaucracy. I don’t know what else to do, I’m trying to help other neighbors. And, to date, I’m getting letters of court dates saying, ‘you haven’t resolved the problem.’"

The city did respond to a couple of questions via email, saying that a municipal court judge could have the final say on whether or not there are fees. It encourages neighbors looking for variances or waivers to email

Below are the questions the city provided answers for:

Q1. Are these neighbors currently accruing fines and will they be expected to pay them?

"In zoning violation cases, fines may only be assessed by the Municipal Court after a responsible party is determined to be responsible for one or more city code charges by plea or judgment. When a party is assessed a fine by the court, the fine and court fees are due and payable to the court on the day the sentence is imposed."

Q2. Some of these neighbors say they’ve lived in their houses for years with no issue, why now?

"To begin, all of the over height fence cases we are currently pursuing were initiated through resident complaints received by the Neighborhood Services Department (NSD). NSD investigates alleged zoning violations on a complaint basis.

NSD understands resident concerns about investigations involving structures that have existed for a considerable time as it is common for code compliance inspectors to deal with. NSD performs in-depth due diligence in these cases to determine if a complained upon violation exists. It is important to keep in mind that occupying a property for a lengthy period of time generally does not cure a zoning violation. In some cases, there are non-conforming rights that are provable by the property owner. This can include structures that were annexed into city that remain unaltered currently. In other cases, there is an appropriate building permit, use permit, or zoning variance that allows a structure that does not meet all zoning requirements to remain as is. NSD’s cases that have moved forward are those where non-conforming rights, permits and variances have not been proven or obtained by property owners."

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