published Monday, June 13th, 2011

$500 for overgrown lawns?

It is unfortunately true that in many neighborhoods, there is at least one yard that often is overgrown with weeds and grass. Or the homeowner may fail to maintain the home, or may have abandoned vehicles in the yard. That is obviously frustrating to nearby homeowners who work to maintain their properties.

At present in Chattanooga, violators can be fined $50 in City Court. But the Chattanooga City Council is considering creating an ordinance that would set up an administrative hearing officer who could levy fines of up to $500 per violation for residential properties and $500 per day for nonresidential properties.

Supporters of the proposal say the existing $50 fine just isn’t enough to get violators to clean up their act.

In some cases, that may well be true. But we wonder whether it’s wise to raise the fine from $50 to $500 — a tenfold increase!

Technically, the Tennessee Constitution sets a $50 limit on the fines, and City Judge Russell Bean pointed out that voters rejected a change to the state Constitution a few years ago that would have increased the fine. But a state law enacted in 2010 lets cities set up administrative hearing officers or permit administrative law judges to handle code violations — and assess fines up to $500.

Bean worries that such an ordinance is a way to get around the state Constitution, and he says it could give too much power to unelected officials. There is also concern that there could be a constitutional challenge to the law.

Whatever the City Council decides, it should tread carefully before permitting $500 fines for violations such as overgrown lawns. Surely any such ordinance should impose such a hefty fine only on serious violators and not, for instance, on a family whose lawn got “out of hand” while the family was vacationing.

There should be reasonable fines to discourage homeowners or landlords from letting their properties get run down, which can reduce the value of nearby properties. But extremely heavy fines for minor violations should be avoided.

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nucanuck said...

Fines for all offences should be large enough to be painful to the offender and should be evenly and predictably enforced. If a law is worth having on the books, it deserves strong enforcement through fines that will more than pay for enough personel to ensure compliance.

June 13, 2011 at 1:25 a.m.
SeaMonkey said...

a lot of homeowners around here are letting their grass grow a little longer because of the high cost of gasoline. the cost of living is skyrocketing. a $500 fine is a money grab and an overreach by government at this time. just because someone "owns" a house (which is a joke since we can never own the land under our house..property rights don't exist in this country)..doesn't mean they're wealthy.

June 13, 2011 at 5:03 a.m.
fairmon said...

There should be some provision for the elderly on limited incomes that cannot perform the work or afford to hire it done. The city council and mayor just increased their annual taxes, their water run off fees, their sewer charges accompanied by a significant TAWC increase which also further increases sewer cost. The council as always starts with the premise that all citizens can afford and are in support of their country club management style. Therefore, they assume unkempt lawns are only due to laziness and neglect.

This article doesn't indicate an investigation process to avoid mistreatment or where assistance in unusual situations would be appropriate. No doubt a note in the mail and punitive action if the fine wasn't paid would be typical of their process design.

Every citizen in Hamilton county would be better served if the county absorbed city government and eliminated duplications and did away with non-essential services. The tax dollar ROI would be significantly improved. A principle would be no increase in county taxes until services were requested and provided.

June 13, 2011 at 8:22 a.m.
Haiku said...

Why not set up a fund and offer to buy the property instead? Or better yet, in the case where the homeowner is elderly, disabled and on a fixed income why not offer to fix the property up? Allowing for the individual to live there and the property can revert back to the city upon the elderly or disabled individual's death or if they should have to move into some assistant living facility. Anything else seems ruthless, insensitive, barbaric, un-Christian and un-American.

Although the fines were far less, this has been tried before and it was abused. Neighbors formed community groups who proceeded to ban together and harass and prey on neighbors they didn't like or weren't considered a part of their social circles. The same will happen here with an added 500 bucks incentive. It's nothing more than a mafia style shakedown where the adminstrative officer and the individuals employed will be hand picked from these very same community groups and associations who came together in the past to harass and chase neighbors from the neighborhood.

June 13, 2011 at 7:23 p.m.
fairmon said...

When the lawn or other vegetation is not well maintained calls for a subjective judgement by someone or some group. Those currently in office are not capable of writing the regulations in a way that others could administer without alienating a community. Anytime a subjective judgement is required the probability of error increases exponentially.

June 13, 2011 at 8:17 p.m.
rolando said...

Hey! Why not just declare eminent domain, seize the property, and sell it at a nice profit to someone who promises to maintain the property? Everyone is a winner! Well, almost everyone but who cares the whys and wherefores for some deadbeat or old crock who refuses/cannot maintain his property. He doesn't deserve to have it...who cares how long it has been in his family...our government certainly doesn't.

sarcasm=OFF

June 13, 2011 at 8:55 p.m.
chioK_V said...

harp3339 said it. This alienates communities and creates hostilities. The last time this was tried, at a lesser cost of course, neighbors formed groups and singled out neighbors they didn't like based on class and even race to report violations against. They would overlook the overgrown yard, peeling paint and falling planks of a friend, but report the house one or two doors down the street of someone who was not a part of their special circle. If the city council approves this they had best have something in place to guarantee there won't be abuses, which is impossible.

If an individual can't sell their home on its own merit it is not the fault of the neighbor down the street with overgrown grass. Guess what? The housing market is in a slump. It's going to be that way for a long time. Anytime you have more people trying to sell a home than there are people able or wanting to buy one your home is going to be a hard sell. Period!!

June 13, 2011 at 9:36 p.m.
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