Published October 30, 2013
Cities ask for citizen help to fight blight issues
By Kevin Bunch firstname.lastname@example.org
EASTPOINTE/ROSEVILLE — While both Roseville and Eastpointe have robust methods for dealing with blight issues, from broken-down buildings to tall grass and snow-covered sidewalks, city employees encourage assistance from the public to maximize their effectiveness.
“We encourage that because, a lot of times, we don’t see what’s going on in the rear yard,” said Eastpointe Development, Public Works and Services Director Mary Van Haaren. “We don’t have the authority to trespass into someone’s backyard because we think there may be a violation, so with someone else’s report … we can get a firsthand look at it without having to trespass on the property.”
Van Haaren said the city has its four code enforcement officers and three rental inspectors go out into the community to check for issues, but getting complaints is frequently the most efficient way to deal with problem areas.
She added that emails are generally the best way for people to send in complaints, as staffers can add the information to the database quicker than transcribing a phone call. From there, the issues are prioritized for inspection.
At this time of year, Roseville City Manager Scott Adkins said the area is entering sidewalk-clearing season, when cities want property owners to clear sidewalks of ice and snow. And when that season is finished, the area enters grass-growing season, he said, where people are asked to keep lawns below a certain height.
“Blight is a problem that knows no season,” Adkins said. “It can happen at any time.”
With that in mind, though Adkins said the city deals with repeat offenders, it has been willing to work with people dealing with extenuating circumstances to help reach compliance without needing to issue a ticket or charge the extra cost of having the city do the work.
“I don’t like to issue tickets; it’s time-consuming, and time is money,” he said. “But we will do it, and if someone is willing to work with us, we’d like to achieve compliance and do it in a friendly kind of approach.”
Roseville Building Director Glenn Sexton said the major issues he sees among Roseville residents are people leaving garbage cans filled without lids on the property, junk accumulating on the property, people not cleaning up after their dogs, and unlicensed, operable vehicles sitting on the property.
Grass and snow issues are generally found among vacant properties, Sexton said. Other issues are typically dealt with by sending notices until the issue is resolved; otherwise, the property owner is issued a court citation.
He added most people are amenable, and that a lot of violations come about simply because the homeowner does not know the ordinances.
Van Haaren said the city starts by sending a notice to the property owner — or in the case of snow, one simply is posted in the newspaper for the whole season, due to the fickle nature of weather.
If someone has left the sidewalk covered in snow and ice, or lets the grass grow too long, she said the city will hire a contractor to clear it for them — charging the property owner the cost of the work and a $100 administrative fee. Similar procedures are in place for dealing with pests, like rodents.
“Part of that is to cover the cost of identifying the violation, sending the notices, putting notices in the paper, the methods we’re using and as a discouragement to have the city take care of those problems,” she said. “Hopefully, it will discourage property owners from using the city to do their maintenance.”
Those invoices come at the time of the work, Van Haaren said, but if they go unpaid, they are added to the next tax bill. She added that the administrative fees practically cover the department’s code enforcement activities and allow it to continue without using general fund money.
For problems with a structure itself, such as broken windows, a fallen gutter or broken siding, the city will not make repairs, but it will see about taking the property owner to court if the issues are not fixed. The city will deal with things that are an immediate hazard to people, Van Haaren said.
Sexton said Roseville has a similar system in place, giving residents two days to clear snow off the sidewalk if two inches or more touch down. The administrative fee in Roseville is $80, he said, which is added to the cost of the contractor’s work.
“Normally, for an average-sized lot, the contractor charges $25 and the city adds a $80 fee to that because, obviously, the canvassing of the neighborhoods is a bigger (expense), or as big an expense, as cutting the grass,” Sexton said.
He said the administrative fees Roseville collects go back into the general fund, but typically, it is not enough to cover the department’s total code enforcement costs. As a result, the department gets money from the general fund and from community block grants it is eligible for.
“It’s often difficult trying to collect administrative fees because we’re dealing with vacant properties, and sometimes, they go into tax forfeiture where those bills do not get paid,” Sexton said.
For more information about city ordinance codes, call Roseville City Hall at (586) 445-5410, and Eastpointe City Hall at (586) 445-3661.