City blight control an issue during spring, summer months
OSCEOLA COUNTY — Unmaintained lawns, clutter and building materials piled around homes are eyesores for many living in residential communities.
Police officers fight against blight within Evart and Reed City by regularly patrolling the streets to make sure home properties look their best.
"It's a problem for us," said Kendra Backing, Evart police chief. "We have a lot of rentals and a lot of properties that are foreclosed, so it's tough to keep up with, but blight control is truly an effort to keep the property values up and the neighborhoods desirable."
She said the department has only just begun enforcing blight laws, and last week served about 26 notices. Last year, officers served less than 100 in total.
When properties do go into disrepair, it's up to Evart's officers to notify the homeowner. Backing said she prefers to notify residents face to face because doing so benefits her and the department as a whole.
"It's resulting in building relationships and good rapport with the community," she added. "We can be a neutral party who steps in on a home when neighbors don't want to be the one to approach a resident about the junk in their yard. Sometimes we get good information about people with warrants or information about what is happening in town."
According to the city charter code of ordinances, which can be found online at evart.org, grass and other types of vegetation cannot exceed 12 inches high. Noxious weeds, such as poison ivy, Canada thistle, dodders and ragweed are not permitted. Residents have five to 10 days to correct the problem before they receive a citation.
"In most cases, residents will voluntarily comply," Backing added. "We're more than willing to work with them if it takes care of the problem."
To help counter blight, Evart hosts a free spring clean-up event in which people can remove and dispose of garbage accumulated during the winter season. Habitual offenders, however, are an issue officers face each year.
Although blight isn't a large problem in Reed City, according police chief Chuck Davis, 139 notices were mailed to homes last month alone. Most, he added, were due to a lack of lawn maintenance as people need to get back into the habit of mowing after months of no grass growth.
Chapter 674 of Reed City's Code of Ordinances, which can be found online at reedcity.org, addresses trees, weeds and grass. It states grass taller than 10 inches should be trimmed, including weeds around streets and all property structures. Standards for shrubs and trees are discussed in the code as well.
"If we see a home that has grass 10 inches long, we have to serve the homeowner a notice," he said. "We try to be lenient with people if it has been raining for days and 95 percent of people who get the notices will comply."
Once notices are served, residents have between five and 10 days to take care of the issue. If nothing is done within that time, citations will be issued.
Habitual offenders, however, are likely to receive a citation without a notice of violation. Citations can cost a resident $100 for the first offense and $200 for the second offense, Davis added.
Fines for the first and second offenses are the same in Evart, and the city's ordinance states residents who receive a third offense could face a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 93 days in jail. The Department of Public Works could be called to remove all items determined as blight at the homeowner's expense.
Davis and other officers see objects including old cars, garbage and broken items accumulate from the winter and are left to sit in lawns and around houses. An ordinance violation notice will be mailed, but officers will continue to monitor clean-up progress before serving a citation after the five to 10-day period.
"We want people to comply and don't want to penalize anyone," Davis said. "If we give someone a notice and then we see they're making progress on cleaning up, we'll give them more time before issuing a citation."
The difficulty officers encounter, Davis added, is serving notices and citations to rental properties, because often tenants cannot be reached. Also, rules in the lease might specify blight problems such as long grass is the responsibility of the landlord.
"This year, more landlords have been served notices because we can't get ahold of the tenants," he said.
EPD runs into similar problems with rental units, Backing said.
Residents in the county who do not have the ability to mow their lawns, such as senior citizens or handicapped homeowners, can call Osceola County Community Corrections at (231) 832-6163 to determine whether work crews can help.
Davis said members of the police department also are known to pitch in when needed.
Backing encourages those in need to ask their neighbors, family or friends for help. If residents are really in a bind, however, they can call the police department or city for further assistance.