When homeowners and landlords tell Brittany Parks that they will fix their storm gutters, clean up their yards or cut their weeds, she is often inclined to believe them.

But this year, she isn't just taking their word for it.

Every conversation the city's five code enforcement officers have with property owners now comes with a written warning, when previously a verbal promise sometimes would be enough. The increased documentation is just one part of the city's plan to build a case against repeat offenders.

While city officials said the goal is always compliance, some owners just won't comply.

Mayor Randy McClement and the Board of Aldermen set up a new process last summer that allows the city to take owners of habitually vacant and blighted properties to court. The court could then appoint another, more qualified owner for the property. To do this, though, city officials say the city must strengthen its case.

"We are throwing everything at it that we have," said Dan Hoffman, code enforcement manager.

So far this year, the city's code enforcement office has handled nearly double the caseload of last year, with 1,883 cases opened so far compared with 744 this time last year. In all of last year, the city opened 1,918 cases.

Some of the increase is due to the cold winter, with 523 cases for snow- and ice-related issues this year, compared with four cases last year. But the increase is also due to more reporting by residents and more tracking on the part of the officers, Hoffman said.

"If we are giving out verbal warnings, we wouldn't have that logged in our systems," he said. "Now, we are getting a better snapshot of what we are dealing with and how many repeat offenders."

Along with the increased notices, the city is increasing its use of citations for property owners who don't comply.

The city has rarely issued citations in the past, but this year, by March 7, the city had already issued 21 citations to property owners, for fines of $100 to $500 each.

Still, some residents aren't buying it. They have watched some buildings on Frederick's main downtown streets sit vacant for more than 10 years.

"The city has no followup," Ned Bond, a property owner, told McClement at a May 20 neighborhood meeting. "You just aren't interested."

The crowd applauded after Bond told the mayor that the city's lack of structure, deadlines and consequences is not fighting blight but "creating blight."

If the city is making positive changes, Andy Stout, a downtown resident, calls it a "victory" on behalf of the residents.

"That is what we have been shooting for," he said.

But Stout said he thinks the city is doing a poor job of using the residents' focus and energy to its advantage. Residents were so upset earlier this year about lack of progress on the old Asiana restaurant building on North Market Street that they held a walking rally from the building to the steps of City Hall.

The city could connect residents who want to see change to residents who genuinely need help fixing up their properties, and create a citizen's review board to separate the politics from the facts, Stout said.

"Why not take that energy," he said, "and harness it and make a really positive change?"

Changing its ways

Residents are reporting more potential violations this year, after the city increased awareness about the reporting system on its website, Hoffman said.

The system has been around for a couple of years but was recently updated, he said. The city has also just launched a smartphone app, called iSpires, to allow residents to report violations by phone.

This means more work for code enforcement officers. Hoffman said the city has talked about adding people to the department in the next budget year.

Residents argue that blighted downtown buildings are more important than neighbors who don't cut their grass. But Hoffman said to him that 18-inch grass is just as important as other complaints.

Still, buildings identified as being blighted — those posing a serious or immediate danger to the health, safety or general welfare of the community — will soon take priority, he said. These are the buildings that could end up in the receivership process.

First, the city will need to decide which buildings are actually blighted.

Zack Kershner, the city's director of public works, said he has come up with a list of a dozen properties that are in the worst shape. The city's attorney is reviewing the list before it is released publicly, he said.

The list will dictate which properties the city could eventually take to court.

The city has also issued a request for qualifications for receivers who are interested in taking ownership of blighted buildings. The deadline for the applications is July 21. These need to be in place before court proceedings, McClement said.

In the meantime, Hoffman said he is trying to make his officers' timelines for followup and reporting systems more consistent, and he is helping his department set up new technology that will allow officers to do their jobs faster.

While Parks used to track violations with pen and paper, she is now testing a new computer system that would make the work electronic.

Hoffman hopes to meet with elected officials soon to outline what would qualify as a repeat offender and to determine penalties, including escalating fines. 

Residents watching it all unfold said the city isn't acting fast enough.

They are sick of being lectured and scolded for not having patience, Stout said.

"These guys get so hung up on the process."

Follow Jen Bondeson on Twitter: @Jen_Bondeson.

(29) comments

m21701m

If the city comes at you because they feel you have a trashy yard or they are investigating a complaint... DOCUMENT WITH PICTURES AND / OR VIDEO of them coming on to your property, tell them to leave immediately and contact a lawyer. The city is overstepping its bounds by these "searches" and it will bite them in the rear. Thank you Jen (who didn't realize what she was doing which is obvious) for posting pictures on twitter showing the city code enforcement officer violating citizen's rights by entering personal property without a warrant. I hope the city gets a few lawsuits over this. You cannot step foot on personal property without a warrant!


Also a big thank you city of Frederick for taking 3 weeks to clear city snow a few years back and now holding the citizens to 12 hours. Have you ever thought that some citizens have to take double shifts to cover for people who cannot make it into work and don't always get a chance to shovel the snow within 12 hours?

Newthinking7

The grafts are scewed, It represents only what the city "started to tag" and not the history dating back to 2006

The city police did not keep records of complaints in 2006 to 2010, so many complaints simply fell on deaf ears for history of violations

Code enforcement was literealy shallow in any attempts. The graffs shown in the article are inacurate inso far as how much worse it was.

The best thing that happend to Frederick city was the Economic collapse. Alot of the worst offenders lost there homes.

This entire area was a disastour, I know of some trash areas in Hillcrest that were condemed by the health department for fear of Bu-bonic plague. This is fact.

WileECoyote

The City should focus on their own issues. Case in Point: when super storm Sandy came thru, the City trees in our neighborhood were damaged. They cut them down. Then they had contractors come in and fix busted sidewalks and curbs. This cause street damage. "Don't worry, we'll be back to fix that soon." Yeah right, the streets are still damaged and the piles of asphalt and debris are STILL lying here in the gutter.

City - handle YOUR business before you stick your nose in OUR business.

quemzeee2

Unfortunatly alot of the way Frederick City does its proccess of allowing building simply falls short.
The rules of doing bussiness for development and change here simply fail or fall short of allowing citizens there purchased rights.
I have seen it time and time again here.
Literaly,
None of the builders, or attournies for them have been held acountable, Combined with the way Realtors were allowed to rig mortagages it has been a disastour.

backroomfrederick

Blight? You mean the real estate where Blaine For Developer signs bend in the wind? Lots of run down parking lots and sheds with handsome signs...

Lewis Porter

No, that is not Blight.

quemzeee2

The realtors here were horrid since 2008 They literealy fixed purchases knowing the new owners could not aford it.
We tracked them. One in Particular, Every single home sold in Hillcrest went to a specific group and they had to pack the houses into rentals.

Huge amount of complaints ,, Horrible. simply hoorible. Just last week someone here got busted for raising chickens again in the garage and back yard.

Frederick is a failure on planning and enforcement. Something is very wrong here.

A number of us tried to file ethics charges on the state level. Huge joke, There was no follow up and no response. but the web site sure looked good.

Frederick City has been a developers pocket book for years. We were duped in buying here.
Now just trying to recoup to get out

dbjanda1

Darth---The realtors weren't representing the sellers but the buyers...Check the tax

records for proof that these neighborhoods were NOT open to the whole market...

Odd that you try to justify it by saying one doesn't have to live there...So you mean

that neighborhoods are treated differently ???...The American or I should say the

illegal alien way, right ???...How about the seniors, elderly and retired people that

couldn't sell their homes ...Realtors really cared about them, too, huh ???...Me

dollymommy

There is a difference though, between people who cannot afford to maintain their properties, and landlords who simply do not care to do so. We have two such properties in our block, and the owners have been collecting generous rents without taking care of either home. The grass in one's yard is over ten inches high--it looks like a jungle! The gutters on the other home have needed to be replaced for years, and the landlord will do nothing about it. He lives right across the street, so he can see the condition of the house--he just doesn't care. Guess I'll be giving Brittany a call this week!

dbjanda1

Gee, surprise that the areas designated worst are the one realtors said were

'TARGETED' to sell to non-English speaking individual...Maybe all the agents that

don't have anything to do volunteer to cleanup the mess that they created...Me

darththevader

So blight is realtor's fault? Building maintainence is tied to native language somehow? Really?? Was anybody required to live in certain parts of town??

Extra Ignored

Blight makes property values decrease and realtors have to market their goods and services according to their customers ability to pay.

Would it suprise you that people who don't speak American English are not the highest paid?

kevinzimm

Your neighbor is a slob. No problem. There's an app for that!!!

tictac102

What a great distraction from the real issue of blight, let's go after homeowners and fine them because we need additional revenue. How about the many properties in the historic district that are and have been empty for year beauce the owners can't afford to fix them because the historic preservation committe is such a joke with what they expose on owners that the owners can't afford to do what hpc wants so they let them sit and rot. No go after home owners, you have luck with them, they won't do anything against the major empy properties in the city for fear that other developers won't come and invest big dollars. This administration is a joke, and I would like to see that when Asiana fails to comply for the millionth time that we rally together and force the weak kneed leadership of the city to do the work the people elected them to do and not this nonsense. We need to stand as a community and demand real results

Extra Ignored

Peeking over and around fences takes time; investigating code violations one in the AM and one in the PM is probably good. People don't make appointments and the investigater has to reschedule. There is work at the office that needs to be done to document the violations.

Extra Ignored

Jill I think you've found your calling; go out and help these people find help to fix their code violations then you'll have something to campaign on next time instead of riding on BY's coat tail.

graceface215

I'm all for getting these properties cleaned up but these citations are a bit rediculous sometimes. Yes getting the weeds and grass cleaned up is important to an extent, but after we had some strong winds a month or two ago I had some trash debri around my driveway and a carseat sitting outside. My warning (which was delviered by two very nice and understanding men) listed we'd be fined $400 if we didn't get it taken care of. $400 for some peices of trash?! These people really need to focus on the more important blighted properties if they are going to hand out $400 fines.

jill king

Not everyone is for gentrification. I would like to see the City or residents speaking the loudest, we won't mention the NAC #. Utilize some of their sources to help with the problem, through providing information of who can help complete the lesser work cheaper and even help they can receive through non profits in order to keep their home updated. Some people they want to go after don't know the rules, don't know how to get help with updates, or don't have the resources to pay.

Complaining is easy. Be a part of the solution.

FreddyFred

Residents who have attempted to offer solutions have been ignored and slandered by Code Enforcement Jill. any other ideas?

jill king

Why aren't some of these people complaining volunteering to help neighbors fix lesser situations, where money or health could be an issue?

When I find someone in my yard with a yardstick measuring my grass or a neighbors, then we will have a problem.

Yes, there are groups now that are talking about eminent domain over properties with no structure for use for community gardens.

FreddyFred

There is no evidence of anyone in Frederick ever suggesting that eminent domain be used to get property to create community gardens. Please attempt to get your facts straight.

Huhwtf

I just think that the city knows where the Obama voters are and are punishing them with citations just by looking at the number of citation in the difference part of the city, they just forgot to put the color and race of people, the income status , and sex orientation in each different section of this map, you can tell a lot with this map and draw conclusions in my opinion

darththevader

Really??? Maybe it's because that's where there are more residential properties

FreddyFred

Individual code inspectors are fine. Dan Hoffman's mantra is "overworked & understaffed" while properties are stagnant; plus he conducts himself like a bozo. Ditch Hoffman and let's get on with it.

CynnicalSid

Standard workdays per year, the low average is 260. Rerun the numbers for last year and you (still) get 1-2 cases per inspector, some handle more, some handle less...

I've always had excellent responses and results from inspectors, they get no support from the City!

My point is the numbers the City reports can be highly misleading. The Results are what counts!

darththevader

All violations are not equal. Tall grass and collapsing building aren't going to take the same amount of time and effort

CredibleWitness

I have had occasion to interact with the code enforcement folks and found them to be responsive and effective in getting situations resolved. In fact, I would say that to be the case with just about any city worker I have talked to or asked for help.

As for workload figures, let's start by using the number of standard work days in a year, which is not 365 days. (Maybe some folks work every day of the year, but most of us get weekends and holidays off.) Then factor in how long each case takes to resolve and all the other things staff must do before you start jumping to conclusions.

CynnicalSid

It only gets worse if you look at last years numbers!

1918 cases last year divided by 365 days split up between 5 inspectors is roughly 1 case per day per inspector!

Let's fudge in weekends off and holidays and make that 2 cases per day....

Just out of curiosity I checked the Spires site last week and looked at 526 N Market, the vacant building with all the boarded up windows! The permit to replace windows closed!

Certainly NO code violations there!

The City keeps sell'n it and We ain't buy'n it...


CynnicalSid

The numbers Dan throws out sound impressive! 1883 cases so far this year!

Take 1883 and divide that by the 150 days so far this year and then split that up amongst 5 code inspectors and you get just 3-4 violations per day per inspector!

Really depends on how you look at it I guess...

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