June 23, 2005

How Tall is Too TALL?

One manís trash is anotherís treasure. That same philosophy can be carried over to oneís property. What one property owner might consider fine, a neighbor may deem as unacceptable. The City of Memphis finds itself in the middle of dozens of these discrepancies over the year as the municipal code on nuisances comes into play governing such issues as uncut grass, trash, waste water or anything else that may be deemed as a health hazard or eye sore.

In this, the first in a three-part series on keeping our community clean, the Memphis Democrat will discuss lawn care.

Section 220.120 of the Memphis City Code states: ďAll persons owning or occupying any lot or tract of land in the City shall keep the weeds, high grass and other vegetation growing on such property cut and removed.Ē

The city code sets the limit at 12 inches, meaning weeds, grass or other uncontrolled vegetation taller than one foot in height may be considered a public nuisance. Basically that means that allowing the grass in your yard to grow taller than 12 inches is against the law with the property occupant or property owner being liable for the situation.

Generally problem areas are recognized by the police department while on regular patrol of the community. However, nuisance complaints are sometimes filed by neighbors or residents in the community either by notification of the police department or city hall.

When such public nuisance is identified, the property owner is notified by the City Police Department. The notice establishes a public hearing date within 10 days of the notice delivery. Once the notice is delivered, the City Marshal can declare the high grass or other vegetation as a public nuisance requiring the situation to be abated within five days.

If the situation is not rectified within the 10 days of the notice period and the following five-day grace period, the Marshal has the power to have the vegetation cut and removed. The Marshal then delivers certification of the cost of the service to the City Clerk to be assessed as a special tax liability to the property owner to be collected with the normal tax bill.

In addition to facing the tax liability for payment of the removal services, the property owner can also be ticketed for a misdemeanor. Failure to adhere to the city order to abate the nuisance situation means the property owner can face additional charges for every day the weeds or grass are not brought into compliance. The code states that each day on which the violation continues shall constitute a separate offense.

During the summer months, the city averages less than half a dozen public hearings on nuisance complaints scheduled at each monthís council meeting. Generally the majority of these properties are brought into compliance before action is required. But occasionally the city is forced to act. In 2004 the city mowed four properties, levying the costs to the owner via a special tax assessment.

Thus far in 2005 the city has mowed one nuisance property. The cost varies based on the salary levels of the city workers handling the job. There is a $25 hourly fee assessed for the equipment in addition to the hourly wages for the workers.

The one job this year cost the property owner $92.20 on their taxes for just over three hours of work by the city.

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