Investigating Code Complaints and Building Permits: Using the City of Oakland’s Accela Online Permitting Center

Regularly in our work with tenants, we deal with questions of Code Enforcement. What exactly did the code inspector cite the landlord for when they visited a tenants’ unit? Does this unit or building have a history of code violations? Somewhat less frequently, questions concerning permits come up. When the garage a tenant is living in was converted into a residence, did the landlord acquire the proper permits and did the unit pass final inspection? Or, if this landlord is evicting a tenant in order to make necessary repairs, has the landlord obtained the necessary permits to make the repairs? Accela is an online tool provided by the City of Oakland that allows us to investigate these questions without having to go to Oscar Grant Plaza.

Note, though users with an account may log-in, it is not necessary to log-in for our purposes. Further note that in many cases using Accela is easier if we have a building’s parcel number.

To locate a parcel number, first go to the Accela home page.

On this page, underneath “General Information” select “Lookup Property Information.” The template on the following page is fairly intuitive and will soon be a familiar one, as we’ll be using it to look up Permit Records and Complaint Records. When we get to those, refer to the above image of the homepage to find “Search Building Records” and “Search Complaint Records” respectively underneath the “Building” and “Enforcement” headings.

Having clicked “Look Up Property Information” in order to find a building’s parcel number, above is where we land. While intuitive, the template has a few finicky features. For “Street Number,” it is usually okay to search whatever number you already have by inputting it in the “From” box. But, to look up some buildings, such as those with multiple street numbers, you may need to use the full range of the building’s numbers. For “Street Name,” you may include things like “E” or “East” for “East 18th Street,” but do not include terms like “Street,” “Ave,” etc. Select those from the “Street Type” dropdown menu. Once you’ve completed the form, click “Look Up.” That will give you results like this—

As you may see, the parcel number is listed in the middle. At the bottom, some listing may make available ownership information (I have not investigated this feature yet).

Now, to look up code violations, return to the homepage and click “Search Complaint Records.” Alternately, at the top of most pages on the cite are the tabs for “Home,” “Building,” “Planning,” and “Enforcement.” For code violations, you may also click the “Enforcement” tab.

On the Search for Complaints page, you will find a template like that on the “Look Up” page, with additional fields. If you have further information, such as “Complaint Number,” the “File Date” for the inspection record, the Parcel Number, etc, you may use that. But searching by address (or Parcel Number) will usually turn up results.

Depending on whether your search turns up one or more results, the next page may vary. If one, you will go directly to the complaint. That looks like the below. Note that you may view not only the info of the record, but, by clicking the menu circled in green, also the “Processing Status” of this code complaint.

If your search turns up multiple results, the page will look as follows.

Note that selecting an individual complaint will take you to a page like the last.

The process and results of looking up permits, through “Search Building Records,” are very similar, so I won’t repeat. I have only begun to explore this system and have not used some of the more deep features. For example, I believe it is possible to actually get copies of the identified Permits and Code Complaint reports, but I have not done this yet.

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