Stepped-up code enforcement nets progress in blight fight

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published September 21, 2015

MADISON HEIGHTS — Over the past few months, code enforcement officers in Madison Heights have been patrolling the city, street by street, checking commercial and residential properties for code violations. Their effort has been focused on three areas: debris, high grass and weeds, and abandoned, unlicensed or inoperable vehicles left outside.

The renewed effort was made possible by the city enlisting a part-time code enforcement officer to help fight blight over the summer. This is something the city couldn’t afford to do during the recent Great Recession, but with rebounding property values putting a bit more money in the city’s coffers, the time seemed right for City Council to address what was a recurring complaint from residents.

And the numbers show that the program has been paying off. For example, comparing the program-to-date numbers of June, July and August in 2014 versus 2015, this year saw a 1,543 percent increase in warnings for abandoned, unlicensed or inoperable vehicles. That’s a significant figure, and all of the other categories saw increases as well — 91 percent for debris, and 7 percent for high grass and weeds.

Nearly all of the problems were resolved by property owners once they were given a warning. There were two violations cited this year, both for debris-related issues. All of the other warnings — 246 in June, 212 in July and 85 in August — resulted in positive change.

“The numbers are very impressive,” said Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett. “I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am with the work the Community Development Department did on following up our request for increased code enforcement this summer. It will continue on year-round, but obviously somewhat scaled back since there are different programs going on in the fall. But I think this is something we should periodically look into doing.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he added. “They’re dramatic, especially the number of properties that were improved upon. I think the key statistic that jumps out at me was in very few cases was it actually necessary to write a ticket. We conveyed a message we were looking out for homes and properties that needed attention, and most people got the message. Rarely was it necessary to follow up with aggressive enforcement or court action.”

Corbett said the program was in direct response to comments that council members were receiving through social media and other venues. People were concerned about properties in their neighborhood becoming run-down, which in turn drives down home values for all.

“In fairness, there was a problem at one point,” Corbett said. “We were very strapped for money, and it was just recently we were able to increase our code enforcement personnel. So we brought the resources we had to bear in a concentrated, well-thought-out way, and I think it had a tremendous impact over the course of the summer.”

Of course, residents need to do their part to keep their properties well-maintained. They’re also reminded to do all they can to minimize rodent harborage. This includes cleaning up pet feces, not allowing pet food to sit out in the yard, elevating firewood storage, not setting out trash prior to 12 hours before normal collection time (as required by city ordinance), and keeping outside trash in enclosed, approved containers.

In an email, City Councilman Mark Bliss said he’s pleased that the city’s investment paid off.

“Code enforcement is an important tool for the city to assist our residents with keeping the community up to the high level of quality that we all desire,” Bliss said. “Our focus is to notify our residents of potential issues and give them an opportunity to fix them. Most times after a warning, the issue is resolved very quickly by our residents. … (The numbers) show how well our code enforcement team works with our residents to rectify these issues once a warning is issued.”