Frederick’s elected officials are considering different ways to fine owners that constantly violate the city’s property maintenance code.
The mayor and aldermen talked Wednesday about additional ways the city’s code enforcement staff could use escalating fines against repeat offenders.
The goal is to give code enforcement the tools it needs to see greater compliance, said Mayor Randy McClement.
The three of the five aldermen who were present for the discussion thought city code should change in a few ways.
First, two violations, one for filth and rubbish and the other for grass and weeds, should have the same escalating fine structure as all other property code violations. The maximum citation now for those violations is $100. The change would make it so the maximum citation could be up to $1,000 on the third violation in a calendar year.
Second, inspectors should be able to issue a citation immediately upon noticing the same violation repeated by the same property owner, rather than having to first issue another notice of violation and then wait to see if the problem is corrected before issuing a citation. Also, they said, the inspector should be able to increase the citation amount on the repeat offenses if necessary.
For example, if grass at a property grows over the allowed length of 10 inches, an inspector issues a notice of violation, and the property owner cleans it up. But then the grass grows higher than the allowed length again. That is when city officials want the inspectors to be able to issue not just another notice of violation, but also a citation with a fine attached.
This will help deter repeat violations, the aldermen agreed.
If not, Alderman Michael O’Connor said, it’s just “notice of violation, after notice of violation, after notice of violation for the same offense.”
The aldermen also agreed that inspectors should have flexibility of the amount of fines and when they are used.
The board will vote on the issue at an upcoming public meeting.
The original recommendation for code enforcement to use escalating fines to address repeated violations came in 2012, from the city’s blighted and vacant task force.
The code enforcement staff has had the ability to use escalating fines since November, said Dan Hoffman, division manager of code enforcement.
For the first citation, the property owner receives a fine of up to $400; the a second offense of the same violation in the same calendar year is a citation up to $800; and the third offense of the same violation in the same calendar year is a citation up to $1,000.
Code enforcement staff has not yet used this procedure, Hoffman said.