City targets nuisance gripes

Published 11:09 am Friday, July 18, 2008

By Staff
Tall grass, abandoned homes and junk cars are in spotlight
Staff Writer
City inspectors are stepping up enforcement of Washington’s nuisance laws in a bid to reduce the number of unkempt properties.
The stepup in inspections and enforcement comes as a result of more violations in the city and more manpower to enforce the rules, city officials said. Another inspector starts work Monday.
City officials pursue violations they observe as they travel through the city, Davis said.
They also respond to complaints from residents, he said.
The violations are throughout the city, but they usually form small clusters, Smith said.
Most of the violations processed by the city stem from unmowed grass or cars parked in yards, Davis said.
Yards with tall grass and weeds are in violation of city laws if the grass and weeds are more than 18 inches high. Ornamental shrubs and trees are exempt from the laws.
If the city finds unruly greenery over the 18-inch mark, a certified letter is sent to the property owner. If the owner doesn’t mow the lot, the city asks a contractor to cut the offending vegetation and sends a bill, often for more than $75, to the owner, Davis said.
Owners who don’t pay the bills wind up with liens on their properties, Davis said.
Junk or nuisance cars face a similar process, though each property in the city is allowed one junk car, so long as it adheres to certain regulations, including that it be covered.
A junk vehicles is defined by the city as not having a valid license plate, being dismantled or wrecked, unable to move under its own power or being more than five years old and appears to be worth less than $100.
Nuisance vehicles are health or safety hazards and aren’t allowed at all, according to city officials.
While vehicles and vegetation make up most of the complaints, the city also is enforcing the rules on abandoned or unsecured houses.
Such houses can pose a risk to children who wander into them, and they can become centers for vagrants, drug dealers and the like, Smith said.
Those houses can be condemned and demolished, but the process is more complex than the one used to get grass cut. That process involves a hearing where the property’s owner can contest the city’s decision to demolish the house, Davis said.
In all of these processes, the city is willing to work with property owners whose land is in violation of city laws, but the owners have to make sure they let the city know what’s happening with their properties, Davis said.
And while pleas for leniency might be heeded if a property owner is working to get a junk car towed or on vacation and will cut the grass immediately upon returning, a simple “I can’t afford it” isn’t a good excuse for not taking care of the problem, Davis said.
Davis emphasized that it often takes little effort to keep properties cleaned up so they’re not hazards to safety, beacons for crime or drags on property values.
Smith said residents are encouraged to call the inspections department with complaints about nuisance properties.
Officials said, for the most part, the worst offenders are land owners who live far from the city.