Layle v. City of Mission Hills: Interpretation of ordinance

Part of Synopsis: “When a municipal ordinance is plain and unambiguous, we must give effect to its express language. We will not speculate on legislative intent and will not read the ordinance to add something not readily found in it. If the language of the ordinance is clear, we have no need to resort to canons of statutory construction. When construing an ordinance, we give words in common usage their natural and ordinary meaning.”

Under the City’s interpretation, any minor cosmetic change to any surface visible to others could constitute a change to an exterior surface, disqualifying it as a “repair” under Section 5-103.82, and requiring a building permit or variance. Such an interpretation is unreasonable. This section more likely refers to a change in exterior surface materials, e.g., wood versus metal pickets or stucco versus brick siding. The City’s attempt to set up a dichotomy between “inferior side” and “exterior surface” is thus unconvincing. Because the Layles propose to replace the fence sections with the same materials, there is no change to the exterior surface—other than that the wood is not deteriorated.

Accordingly, we find that the Layles’ proposed work constituted a repair of sections of their fence. Repairs, even on nonconforming structures, do not need a variance, per Section 5-128.C. The City Administrator thus had the authority to grant the Layles a building permit.

Read the opinion: Layle v. City of Mission Hills.