AUSTIN, Texas - Last week, 15 homeowners in South Austin were given code violations for decades-old unpermitted garage conversions.
Now, a former city employee, who experienced the same thing years ago, is trying to help that neighborhood straighten out the mess.
The threat of hefty fines sent many neighbors into a panic.
“They're saying if I don't fix this in 30 days, they could fine me $2,000 a day,” said Sean McGuire who said he’s lived in his home for 16 years.
For former Austin firefighter Dale Flatt, it's an all-too-familiar battle.
“It's important to me because I remember what it was like, what I felt, the impending, ‘oh, what am I going to do?’ And it doesn't have to be like that,” Flatt said.
Flatt received a similar violation notice 11 years ago. Days before selling his late mother-in-law's home in the Fairview Estates neighborhood, he received a complaint about an unpermitted garage conversion, something he said was done before his mother-in-law even moved in.
More than seventy of his neighbors also received violations.
“So I paid the $157… but I wasn't going to let it go because there were other people that my wife grew up with in that neighborhood and I needed to be able to help those people through this process,” said Flatt.
By fighting back against the complaints, Flatt said he was able to help several of his neighbors clear the issue with the city. He hopes to do the same on Green Forest Drive.
“We all banded together and we had one voice and that's what we're working on here as well,” Flatt said.
Flatt found this information on the city's website.
“Any work without a permit is considered a Class C misdemeanor underneath the city's code,” said Flatt.
He then looked up the statute of limitations on misdemeanor offenses under the Texas code of criminal procedure.
“If the state wants to bring forth a Class C misdemeanor, it has to be done within two years of the date of occurrence, not the date of discovery,” Flatt said.
The code department said they forwarded that information to city legal to get answers.
In a statement to FOX 7 Austin, the department writes:
"The city code is designed to protect the health and safety of residents. The city is reviewing its options with regard to unpermitted garage conversions."
The city's website said even if you bought a home with a garage already converted it is your responsibility to get a permit for it.
According to the website, "All life/safety requirements of the City Code go with a property, not the owner."