Many communities in our region have a zoning ordinance with nuisance regulations, which enable a city to take action to remove dangerous or unsightly conditions. A few examples of these regulations include requirements for removing junk, junked vehicles, and weeds; correcting unsafe buildings and unfinished construction; and planting trees and trimming them for safety. Unfortunately, some smaller towns don’t have the personnel or processes to enforce their nuisance code, and it can take just a few properties with dilapidated buildings and junk cars to create a community eyesore.
ECICOG’s Housing Department has a solution to this problem, and seven communities in our region have decided to let Housing Specialist Mark Culver take care of the process. Once a month, Culver takes a drive around each participating town and looks for situations that are in violation of city code. He takes photos of each property and provides a report on possible violations to the city, which decides in each case whether or not to begin enforcement procedures.
When the city determines that a property is in violation of the nuisance code and requests enforcement, Culver sends a letter to the property owner and to the renter, if any. “We approach the resident and the owner in a civil, friendly manner, and in many cases, that is all it takes,” he said. “If not, we send a second letter.” Then, if the property owner is still unresponsive , Culver sends a certified letter, which is every bit as official as it looks and prompts some violators to finally take action on their own. If the property is still in violation after the certified letter, Culver notifies the city attorney, and then the city decides whether to take legal action.
Culver said he usually gets results early in the process by assuming the owner isn’t even aware there’s a problem. “Some property owners don’t realize that something in their own yard can be a nuisance,” he said. “But after some education, most of these nuisances are easily corrected.”
Central City Mayor Adam Griggs said the program has inspired improvements that go beyond the requested corrections. “As we have enforced the nuisance code and people have started to clean up their properties, other people have noticed and have pre-emptively cleaned up messes that have sat there for years,” Griggs said. “It really has created a cycle. We don’t necessarily have to send out all of the letters anymore, because as people’s neighbors clean up, they think, ‘Hey, they cleaned up; maybe I better too.’” He added that he gets regular compliments about the improvements. “People say it’s about time we took a stand and started cleaning up these dangerous situations.”
Griggs also praised the program’s effectiveness in preparing the streets for snowplowing. “We had a lot of trees that would hit the windows of the snowplowing equipment. Enforcement is something our public works team has wanted for years,” Griggs said, adding that he doesn’t have the personnel to send letters to all of the properties and to follow up and enforce the orders while also preparing for winter. “We have a small city staff and managing this process can be a lot of work,” he said. “Mark has been a blessing for us to make sure these tasks are done in a timely manner.”
The communities that have already contracted with ECICOG to enforce their nuisance code are Central City, Olin, Onslow, Oxford Junction, Springville, Van Horne, and Wyoming.