Danville dealing with overgrown lawns earlier every year

Published 7:39 pm Thursday, June 13, 2019

A wetter-than-normal pattern of weather has been hitting Kentucky over the last several years, and meteorologists say so far, that trend doesn’t show any signs of changing. More rain means more grass and weeds, says Codes Director Bridgette Lester.

She let the Danville City Commission know recently that she plans to return and ask for a change in the city’s nuisance ordinance — in order to keep up with complaint calls they get on overgrown yards.

The topic came up Monday night, as commissioners asked Lester about the code enforcement services monthly report. It shows the mowing talley of yards the city has had to jump in and take care of at $5,464 — and that’s just for the month of May.

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Commissioner J.H. Atkins asked if Lester knew “a range” of what it costs the city to mow each yard. She said there really isn’t any range — it’s based on how large the yard is and there’s a service charge applied if the city is forced to do the work.

The report indicates there are 21 different liens placed against properties for mowings that have been billed. Two liens placed for mowing services have been recovered, bringing in $335.84.

As of now, the ordinance states “weeds, grass and other growth” shall not be allowed to stand more than 12 inches high.

This year, Lester said Codes began receiving complaints about grass issues in April. “We got calls, but there’s nothing we can do to enforce it.”

Because of the ordinance’s timeline, Lester said it “has to be an excessive situation right now that falls under another ordinance, because grass and weeds can go above 12 inches outside that timeframe.”

That answer hasn’t made callers very happy when there’s an out-of-control yard they are dealing with in their neighborhood before May, or later in November.

Lester told the commission she would like to extend the ordinance’s time frame, perhaps even make it year-round.

Codes receives complaints from neighbors and passers-by, or enforcement officers may drive through an area and notice a yard issue. 

“Once the grow season starts on May 1, that’s when we can send them a notice” informing the property’s owner about the issue. Then they have five days to take care of the situation.

All letters and citations are mailed to the property owner at the last known address, as listed on the current tax assessment roll. 

“After that, we make a decision as to what we do — mow it or issue a citation. If we do mow it, we calculate the charges and file it at the clerk’s office and put a lien on the property.”

Before a property can be sold, all liens against it must be paid, which is determined by a title search.

“We do everything we can to recover our costs. We mail out lien letters quarterly, which is a whole lot more than what other cities do, based on our checking,” she told the commission. “Attorneys are always mentioned — we go above and beyond to try and collect those, but some properties you’ll see on that list are running up a tab.”

Lester says there can be a myriad of reasons why someone has let their yard get out of control. It could be an elderly person who lives alone and has no local family they can depend on, for example. There are homeowners who are sick, in nursing homes or otherwise incapacitated and others are supposed to be responsible for looking after the house …

“It really could be a number of things,” Lester said, which is why Codes tries communicating first, as well as informing.

“We spend a lot of time educating people as to why we’re there, help them understand the codes, the ordinances,” Lester said. But it’s not only grass and weed issues that may force Codes to put a lien against a property.

“We had a property we had to board up, for instance,” she said. Sometimes when a structure has been condemned, Codes must make sure no one is able to get inside and get hurt.

Or, in the cases when renters get evicted and dump all of their belongings out front of the home. “We have to come in and clean that up, so we assess the charges and also put a lien on the property in those cases, too,” she said, which is how demolitions are handled, as well.

As of now, there are 11 condemned properties Codes has listed.

Commissioner Rick Serres commended Lester and her department, and said “our mayor and city commissioners are backing them on putting some meat behind codes enforcement.”

He said upon reviewal of the condemned properties report, “… look at the top six, things are happening, that’s really positive.” Some properties are in total renovation, are listed as “now being maintained” or are up for sale.

Serres said at a recent town hall event, the topic of condemned properties came up. “… It’s a difficult process. We’re trying to get it done.”