Not cutting your grass could cost $3,000

Not cutting your grass could cost $3,000

28 June 2013

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USA — The wet spring and heavy rainfalls in recent weeks haven’t just made for an unsightly mess along street medians.

It has caused similar problems at homes and some businesses as well, with weeds and grass sometimes growing out of control, creating eyesores in neighborhoods throughout Greenfield Enter: Jeff Cavett, one of two part-time fire marshals with the Greenfield Fire Department. Cavett spends most of his time enforcing municipal codes, including those that regulate property maintenance and management

Where can that fence be installed? Are those tree branches too close to the neighbors house? Is that the proper place to park a car? Those are questions Cavett answers regularly.

And in the summer, after dealing with leaf concerns in the fall, snow issues in the winter, and standing water complaints in the spring, it’s often all about grass.

“The limit in the city is 12 inches,” Cavett said. “Sometimes people wait 2-3 months too late and I’m dealing with grass that’s 2-3 feet tall. We basically call that a hayfield and we have a service that comes out and cuts that.”

Cavett often gets tips from Greenfield’s police department’s community service officers or other residents. He does a quick background check before contacting the violating property owner. Then he gives the owner a deadline to address the issue and eventually, if the issues aren’t solved, he has the authority to issue a citation with fines between $5 and $3,000.

“They’re usually getting 30 to 60 days to cure all this,” Cavett said. “A lot of the work I do is advisement first. I try to be an ambassador to the city. We’re not trying to make people’s lives miserable. I want the whole neighborhood looking better and have the neighbors feel good about who’s in between them.”

Cavett said he rarely writes tickets for out of control grass because the property owner usually addresses the issue after being notified. When he’s dealing with illegally parked vehicles or property maintenance, however, his ticket starts at the maximum.

“A $3,000 ticket results in compliance,” Cavett said. “It always does. People will start moving things for $3,000. Then we’ll go into court, we’ll work with an attorney and they will be plead down to $100. And the reason they are plead down is because they solved the problem.”

Fire Chief Jon Cohn said the department is cognizant of why someone might not be able to cut their grass: a resident might be ill or their lawnmower is broken. That’s why they are given time to address the issue. He added neighborly conversations could fix most of the code enforcement issues the city faces.

“It would really be nice if we could back out of this business and more people would talk to their neighbors, but sometimes we have to serve as referees,” Cohn said.

Many of the problem homes Cavett runs into are vacant or foreclosed homes. He said it’s important to make those “look occupied” to fend of vagrants looking to steal copper pipes or air conditioning units.

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