In Jean Hoeger’s neighborhood, cars parked atop the front yard are becoming the norm. And with recent changes in code enforcement, residents have lost their chance to get the municipal code enforced.
“In the College area, the problem is widespread,” Hoeger says. “On Mary Lane Drive, 90 percent of the houses are mini-dorms, so there are cars everywhere. It’s unsightly and illegal, and the city is going to stop enforcing parking-on-the-front-yard ordinance.
The city recently divided up the list of offenses that were already low priority for code enforcers, and decided there are some that they just won’t enforce any more.
Not that abandoning the low-priority complaints will dramatically lighten the workload for the 23 zoning and 17 more inspectors who look at a combination of code violations in the Code Enforcement Division of Development Services. Last year they got 15,583 complaints.
At the beginning of 2018, seven types of complaints were moved from the lowest of three enforcement categories to "alternative compliance," city spokesman Scott Robinson confirmed. Those include:
• Barking dogs
• Garage sales
• Lighting onto adjacent property
• Noise (mechanical, animal, other nuisance per parameters in SDMC)
• Parking in front yard
• Street trees
Signs are another nuisance issue in the College Area – freestanding signs that advertise vacancies in the mini-dorms. According to the municipal code, the signs are supposed to be temporary. Hoeger says that the SBMI Group, which manages about 60 mini-dorms in the neighborhood, leaves theirs up year round.
“They have every right to advertise vacancies, and in the summer there are vacancies. But once school starts again and the houses are full, those signs should come down,” she said. “They don’t.”
“The city is saying we should go talk to the neighbors about our concerns, and if that doesn’t work, try mediation,” Hoeger says with disbelief echoing in her words.
City spokesman Robinson says that’s about right.
The city has long had three tiers of code enforcement: Priority 1, immediate threats to health and safety; including dangerous structures, exposed electrical wires, and leaking sewage. Inspectors get to these violations within one business day.
Priority 2 is for ‘significant code violations,’ substandard housing and abandoned properties, illegal grading and other offenses that degrade or disrupt the environment. The department promises to get to these in five days.
The offenses in Priority 3 have to do with "quality of life," garage sales that never end and garages being used as residences or for storage(!) Before the split, it had about 40 types of code violations or inspections – food trucks and mobile home parks, vehicle repair in residential neighborhood, construction without proper permits and so on. They are supposed to be investigated within 30 days, or as staffing allows.
Unlicensed marijuana dispensaries fall into Priority 3.
So do lower quality of life issues, where food trucks, outdoor merchandise displays and push charts, sidewalk cafes and billboards landed. Ditto with mobile home park routine inspections. Those enforcements and inspections will occur as staffing allows.
In City Heights, front yard parking isn’t so much an issue. But some residents say they feel like they live next door to a flea market.
“There are people who’ve had a garage sale every weekend for years. It only stops while they’re on vacation.” says a woman on 43rd street. She didn’t want her name used because she didn’t want her neighbors to think she might have or wanted to report them. “It’s live and let live.”
Garage sales fell into the third level by code enforcement’s triage ranking. But to have any chance of enforcing the code stop is upsetting to City Heights residents.
“We really wish we had more code enforcement in City Heights,” said Jim Varnadore, a resident who also serves on several City Heights community groups. “We worry about the nuisance violations not being enforced.”
Varnadore says the problem starts with the department not having enough inspectors and other resources. Since 2016, the division has handled more than 15,000 complaints, according to department statistics. With a 2018 budget of $7,883,880 (up about $400,000 from last year), expanding services is unlikely. At this year’s budget hearing, councilmembers asked for more inspectors but it isn’t clear if that wish list was funded.
City Heights has its neighborhood specific problems – starting with chronic, repeat garage sales, Varnadore says. He also mentioned barking dogs and garages stuff full of junk while the residents’ cars take up street parking.
“Nobody will come and do anything about that,” he said. “Your only salvation from a barking dog is to buy the property and evict the resident and the dog.”