published Monday, June 6th, 2011

City eyes higher fines for code violations


by Cliff Hightower

WHAT IT MEANS


A Tennessee law allows cities and towns to get around a constitutional limit of $50 fines for violation of city codes. Here’s how it works:

• Cities pass ordinances setting up administrative hearing officers or allowing administrative law judges to oversee code violation cases.

• Hearing officers or judges could levy fines up to $500 per violation.

• The fines would have to be for building and property maintenance violations such as overgrown lawns and abandoned cars in front lawns.

Source: Tennessee General Assembly

Just behind Ruby Green’s home is a yard with knee-high grass. Up and down her street, she said, she sees lawns overgrown and not kept up.

Green, the president of the Cedar Hills Neighborhood Association, said she wants her neighborhood to be better. But it’s hard when the most the city can fine for code violations is $50, she said.

“That’s too little,” Green said. “They laugh at $50. They don’t care.”

That could change. A state law enacted last year allows cities to establish administrative hearing officers who can levy fines up to $500 per violation for residences and $500 a day for nonresidential properties.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the administration is very interested. Nashville and some surrounding cities already are implementing the program. Beeland said the city needs to follow suit.

“We have properties all over the city derelict, and we can’t do anything over $50,” he said.

Beeland said the City Council soon could start looking at enacting an ordinance establishing its own administrative hearing officer. He said the city wants to try to implement the new law “as soon as possible.”

Now, violators go before City Court where they can be fined $50. The fine is written into the state’s Constitution and cannot be changed except by referendum.

City Judge Russell Bean said that a few years ago voters rejected a proposal to change the state Constitution and increase the fine.

He said he sees this as a backdoor way to get it through because legislators couldn’t get it through the front door. He said he is afraid such a law “waters down” the court process and allows too much power for nonelected officials.

He fears that legislators could start setting up hearing officers for anything.

“What’s going to happen next?” he asked. “Are they going to do animals next?”

Linda Richards, president of the East Lake Neighborhood Association, sees it differently.

“It would bring the neighborhood back up,” she said.

She said throughout her neighborhood there are absentee landlords letting their properties go to pot. The $500 fine would get their attention, she said.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said there could be a challenge in court over whether the fines violate the Constitution. But he said most civil penalties in Tennessee have been upheld by the court system.

“My gut reaction is that it would be upheld,” he said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said last week she’s interested. But she said she also wants to know more about the program.

There are violators who don’t care about the $50 fine, she said. They come in, pay their fine and keep violating. A $500 fine could help, she said.

“Fifty dollars is just not effective,” she said. “You need something more to get their attention.”

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ouzzy88 said...

You people just suck! Plain and simple, might look good on paper, but you be fining people who don't have 50$, cause if they did they would pay to get the grass cut.

June 6, 2011 at 5:51 a.m.
dave said...

Look at this... next they will be loading "undesirables" onto boxcars and shipping them off to "re-education camps" $500 for long grass...and who makes this determination of how you keep the yard YOU PAID FOR? This is just plain old goose stepping NAZISM!

June 6, 2011 at 7:28 a.m.
brokentoe said...

Here's a solution for whiners like Ruby Green: If other neighbors high grass bothers you so much GET OFF YOUR PHAT RUMP AND CUT THE GRASS YOURSELF!!

With unemployment at a high rate, people are struggling just to put food in the mouths of their families, and this moron is worried about neighbors not mowing their lawn! People like Ruby need to get their priorities in order. We just had a deadly tornado in April that took the homes and lives of entire families and this idiot is whining about neighbors tall grass. Get a life RUBY!! Instead of whining try doing something positive for a change. People are already stressed beyond the breaking point. Trying to pay a 500 fine might just tip them over the edge to the point where neighbor will start going postal on neighbor.

June 6, 2011 at 7:51 a.m.
dao1980 said...

“What’s going to happen next?” he asked. “Are they going to do animals next?”

haha, gross.

June 6, 2011 at 7:58 a.m.

Here is someone having a hissy over tall grass when all it takes is an act of Mother Nature to come in and swoop her, the home she lives in and her obviously neatly mowed lawn and wipe them all out in a split second. Yet, she's worried about her neighbor's lawn. Are all Americans so self-centered as Ruby?

June 6, 2011 at 12:59 p.m.
LibDem said...

Maintaining your property, expecting your neighbors to do the same, and taking pride in your community are the good kind of Nazism. I don't know what these Neighborhood Associations do but they could have block parties and do a little cleaning up. In a city where we lived several years ago, the house next door was abandoned. When I mowed my yard, I mowed that yard. A little gas and an hour of time. When I walk my dog, I pick up trash on the street. How hard is that? The city gets involved because pigs is pigs.

June 6, 2011 at 1:58 p.m.
dave said...

The fact is it is still the persons yard to keep it how they will. The City didn't pay for the property...They are just leeches sucking the blood of the working folks with trumped up charges and regulations. This is just another one of our elitist mayors ideas of how to get more money from the taxpayers.

June 6, 2011 at 2:56 p.m.
Legend said...

Lib4, unless the individual is planning on selling her house, she shouldn't be worried about the property value. It does seem quite petty and small minded to be quoted as being worried about tall grass when the area just went through a deadly disaster such as the last tornado caused. This individual just likes to hear the screeching of her own voice, apparently.

LibDem, here's what most of those neighborhood associations do. Many are viciously vindictive and use their status to harass neighbors they've had a disagreement with. They appear convincing to the city council because they operate in groups. If one complains on a neighbor, they'll team up as a group and get several within that group to call in the same complaint. If they want run someone from their neighborhood not considered of their class or social standing, and God forbid, not they shade they abuse the code enforcement and ordinances in an attempt to harass said neighbor or neighbors out of the area. That's basically what many of them do. They operate like an exclusive social club or some high school click.

Like you, when I mow my lawn I also mow the lawn of the next two or three houses next to me if it's needed. What's it going to cost me but a sweat and getting a good workout?

June 6, 2011 at 2:58 p.m.
Legend said...

Lib4 said: "I also painted the walls in neutral colors so buyers won't be freaked out when they see it."

But you're still admitting that it's YOUR property and you're doing with it as you please. YOU decided to paint your walls in neutral colors. If YOU had decided to paint all your walls solid red, black or purple, it would still remain YOUR right to do so.

Lib4 said: "What you're doing is illegal, you're invading someone elses property without having been invited you"

It's not INVADING my neighbors' property to mow their lawn when they already know beforehand and welcome it. I get huge THANK YOUS from them. Since many of my neighbors are elderly and on a fixed income with at least one spouse with a serious disability, they can neither afford a yardman to the job nor are they able to do the work themselves. Plus, I get a lot of home cooked casseroles, desserts and huge THANK YOUS in return for my generosity. I'd still do the deed regardless and without all the goodies attached.

Since genoristy and compassion is suppose to be the backbone Americans claim to stand for, you should try it yourself sometimes. There's no greater thank you one can receive than to do something for someone without strings attached and seeing the look of gratitude on their face.

June 7, 2011 at 12:17 p.m.
Legend said...

Actually, you can still play your music loud, Lib4.

Didn't have to mention "that" part before.

"state stealing from the rich and middle class to give to the power?" That's a head scratcher. Makes no sense. The "power" ARE the rich, and at least upper middle classed. The regular middle classed struggles right down there alongside the poor working classes.

June 7, 2011 at 3:08 p.m.
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