How to File a Complaint

In Beverly Hills it is essential that tenants report code violations when we see them. Our complaint-driven system of enforcement depends upon it. That’s because the city has never proactively enforced for violations, and lack of enforcement has allowed a culture of impunity to prevail among landlords. But the city does not make it easy to file a complaint. This explainer should demystify the process.

Why Report a Code Violation?

Because City of Beverly Hills has long taken a laissez faire approach to code violators: don’t look very hard for violations and don’t penalize the scofflaw when a violation is reported. The approach has allowed a culture of impunity to prevail among landlords.

When residential rental property owners choose not to obtain a required permit for major remodeling, plumbing and electrical work, or exterior maintenance (like roofing and walkway replacement), it’s because working without a permit saves money and time.

However tenants are harmed when work proceeds without a required permit. We will receive no advance notice of construction that can be disruptive, and the landlord need not take any step to mitigate those impacts. The work happens entirely below the radar. And it happens all the time.

Just this morning we were reminded by unpermitted interior demolition work at 153 Reeves Drive. A block away we could hear the sledgehammers at work, and out front workers were carrying debris to a hauler truck at the curb. Violations all around.

So immediately a complaint was filed online. Let’s walk through the process because 1) it is essential that tenants know how to file a complaint; 2) how to follow up on a complaint once it is filed; and 3) the whole process is not intuitive to the new user. We focus on filing online because that provides a case number and means to follow-up, while a phoned-in complaint can simply go unrecorded.

Using the Ask Bev Portal to File a Code Complaint

Reporting a code violation online is preferred because it creates a paper trail. The city’s Ask Bev portal enables a user to choose a specific department or division and allows for uploaded documents and images too. Also there is a case number that is useful for later follow-up.

(Note: online is the only option for an anonymous complaint. But follow up depends entirely on the user because there is no contact information provided to the city. It is up to the user to check on progress.)

The city’s online portal, Ask Bev, is a clumsy, outdated customer management relic. It should have been retired a decade ago. Nevertheless it gets the job done. But a bit of hand-holding for new users is necessary. Here is our guided tour.

Our Guided Tour of Ask Bev (aka comcate)

If using the system for the first time, create a new account. on the city’s My Beverly Hills system. Returning users should log in with the login link at the top right of the submit a request page. (When contacting the city anonymously, there is no need to create an account at this point so simply choose a topic area without logging in.)

Comcate screen 1: choose a topic
The Ask Bev platform. A taste of the 1990s internet in the 21st century!

Choose a topic area from among the available tabs. (For example, ‘Renters Issues.’) Then choose a subtopic (or don’t – it doesn’t really matter). Ignore the frequently-asked-questions if displayed and then click ‘next’ to advance to the details screen.

Comcate screen 2: choose a subtopic
Choose a topic and subtopic. The subtopics are not thorough or well-organized. Don’t fret!

Choose whether to log-in OR to ’remain anonymous.’

Comcate screen 3: login or register
Choose whether or not to report anonymously.

Choose anonymous feedback options if reporting anonymously. There are two options: no feedback from the city and feedback that the user can access via a temporary login ID. The latter is the recommended option. So choose “Yes, I would like to see responses online.” Create an anonymous username and password.

Comcate screen 4: report anonymously
When creating an anonymous submission no identifying information or email address is collected But it is up to the user to check on progress by logging in with the username and password so write them down!

Provide the details. Choose ‘request,’ ‘question,’ or ‘complaint’ as appropriate (it really doesn’t matter) and then provide the query, complaint or comment in the window. Attach up to five supporting documents using the ‘attach a file’ link below that window.

Comcate screen 5: make the complaint
The details screen. Some topic choices will show fields for providing a violation address. Ignore those fields. Put the address in the text of the request.

Click ‘submit.’

Follow up is essential! A complaint may be quietly closed (sometimes with insufficient investigation). So be prepared to pursue the complaint until a satisfactory resolution.

Follow up by phone or email. By phone, call the code enforcement line at (310) 285–1119 and reference the assigned complaint number. Staff will be able to see the assigned officer (if any) and the disposition (open or closed).

Finally, check back later. Return to the Ask Bev login page and then log in with the account credentials or, if the request was anonymous, log in with the temporary user and password.

Comcate screen 6: follow up
Logging back in to check on the status of a request or complaint.

Once logged-in, the system will send a user to the status page where prior requests are listed. (At any time when logged in, the status page is accessed by clicking on the ’check status’ link at the top of the portal.) Click through on any to see the city’s response.

After Filing What Happens?

After filing a query or complaint online one of several things will happen:

  • A query will be acknowledged with some version of “We will look into it.”
  • A complaint may be acknowledged with “A case has been opened.”
  • A complaint or query to the Rent Stabilization Office may be acknowledged with a referral to code enforcement.

When a complaint IS referred to code enforcement the next steps may play out in one of these ways:

  • The complaint is investigated and no violation was found (case is closed);
  • After investigation, the property owner was advised to correct the problem and did (case is  closed);
  • There was an investigation an the property owner was advised, but there is not yet compliance (the case should remain open).

The second response is verifiable: is the subject of the complaint any longer an issue? But the  first and third responses may require more follow-up because code cases not infrequently are closed prematurely. Follow-up with the assigned code enforcement officer if necessary.

As for substantiated violations that remain uncorrected, the Municipal Code specifies a schedule of notices, fines and sometimes prosecution. It can be a long wait. Here follow-up is really crucial to ensure that the case is not quietly closed without a resolution.

Have you reported a violation? Please share your experience with Renters Alliance. Get in touch!