City to amend its overgrown grass ordinance

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 21, 2014

ST. CLAIR SHORES — City Council will consider a revised ordinance for overgrown grass in June after a recent study session expounded on the details — and raised questions — about current enforcement.

With the spring rains upon the city, the question of when and how often the city looks for violators of the ordinance prohibiting grass from exceeding 6 inches in length was raised again May 12. City Planner Liz Koto told City Council that this year’s policy will include an inspector canvassing one-third of the city on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, specifically looking for lawns that are too long. In addition, an inspector will travel a route of vacant and foreclosed homes looking for grass violations on Saturdays.

The homes found to be in violation on the weekday routes will each have a sticker left on their door alerting residents to the problem and letting them know that they have until the next business day to remedy the problem or the city will cut the lawn, at a cost to the homeowner.

In the study session, however, council members said that might not be enough time.

“I really like 24 hours because someone’s working midnights or afternoons, they might come home late, they might not see any (sticker) until the morning,” said Councilman Peter Rubino.

City Manager Phillip Ludos said the sticker could also say the lawn would be cut on the second business day to give Landscape Services — the mowing contractor for the city — flexibility but, at the same time, give residents at least 24 hours to get the grass cut on their own.

Koto said inspectors would be taking photos of the offending home when a sticker is left on the home, and then the contractor would take photos before and after mowing the lawn with a ruler to show the height of the grass.

Vacant and foreclosed homes are not tagged with notices, however, Koto said, because with about 170 homes to hit in one day throughout the city, it would take too much time.

She said this year, code enforcement officers were trying to get as much photographic evidence as possible to support the need for the lawn to be mowed by the city, which costs $100 in administration fees and at least $30 for the actual mowing.

The redundancy of having vacant and foreclosed homes on another route means that “we should be catching what, hopefully, isn’t missed.” she said.

While Koto first laid out a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday plan that split the city into 2-mile chunks, Councilman Anthony Tiseo suggested the routes be matched more closely to garbage pick-up because some residents, like himself, like to bag their clippings and put them right on the curb to be taken the next day in the yard waste collection instead of sitting around for days. Koto said they are still determining if that change will be feasible.

And Councilwoman Candice Rusie suggested adding the sticker requirement to the ordinance so that it couldn’t be changed again by a later city administration.

“I would like something for administration to have to follow, for the city to have to follow,” she said. Also, she said, she would want the sticker to include “administration fees. Tell them how much … so they know what they’re dealing with.”

If a resident has an extenuating circumstance as to why the lawn wasn’t cut — out of town, too much rain, etc. — Koto said there is an appeals process. Rusie said she’d like residents to be notified of that, as well.

Koto said residents can still call and report a violator in their neighborhood, as well.

When code enforcement officials are canvassing the neighborhoods, Koto said they will be cutting both front and rear lawns. She said if the grass is 6 inches tall in the front, or higher, they will first leave a notice and then return and cut the lawn if it hasn’t already been done. After that is cut, they will look at the backyard and cut that, as well, if it is also taller than 6 inches.

“I would like … to provide notice of that, too,” Rusie said.

Koto said she can add language to the notice sticker saying that the front and rear yards will be serviced if the grass is not cut by the resident.

Walby said he would like to see a revised ordinance back before City Council at the June 16 City Council meeting enumerating the changes, including putting the fee on the sticker and how many days residents have before the mower contractor returns.