COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

AGENDA TITLE:

Grass/Weed and Building Maintenance Ordinances

 

SUBJECT/PROPOSAL/REQUEST:

Discussion of possible ordinances related to grass and weeds and to building maintenance

 

STAFF CONTACT(S):

Tucker, Foley, Davis Graham, McCulley, Schlothauer, Fritz

 

LEGAL REVIEW:   Yes

 

AGENDA DATE:

September 5, 2007

 

ACTION:                INFORMATION: 

 

CONSENT AGENDA:

  ACTION:              INFORMATION:  X

 

 

ATTACHMENTS:   Yes

 

 

REVIEWED BY:

 

 

 

 

BACKGROUND:

The Board has asked staff to investigate the possibility of adopting a grass and weed ordinance as well as a building maintenance ordinance.  Each year, the County receives complaints about high uncut grass and unsafe / unsightly building conditions.  While we have no records to determine the number of complaints received each year, we have found that in recent years the number of complaints appears to have increased. 

 

STRATEGIC PLAN:

Goal 1:  Enhance Quality of Life for All Citizens, which includes an objective to “increase the economic vitality of the County's development areas”. 

 

DISCUSSION:

Grass and Weed Ordinance:  

Virginia Code § 15.2-901 enables the County to adopt an ordinance regulating the cutting of grass and weeds (see Attachment A).  However, the authority is limited and applies only to vacant developed or undeveloped parcels. Occupied parcels that are poorly maintained could not be regulated by a grass and weed ordinance without additional enabling authority.  Currently, Virginia Code § 15.2-1215 enables a limited number of localities to require that grass be cut on occupied residential properties.  A grass and weed ordinance adopted pursuant to Virginia Code § 15.2-901 could apply to all zoning districts or to specific areas. Some jurisdictions do not apply the ordinance to lots of over 2 acres regardless of use or zoning designation.  Other jurisdictions require cutting of grass and weeds on a lot that is over 2 acres only on that portion of the lot that is within 150 feet of the edge of pavement of a state maintained road or within 200 feet of a building.  Violations can be enforced by imposing a civil fine of $50.00 to $200.00 and/or, after reasonable notice, by the County cutting the grass and weeds and charging the costs to the property owner.  Staff has researched Grass and Weed ordinances in Virginia and found 32 localities that have adopted a grass and weed ordinance.  (Staff has copies of many of these ordinances and they are available for review.)  Staff surveyed selected localities to determine the method of enforcement and the number of violations each year.  The following table summarizes the findings and demonstrates the proactive localities process more violations.  

 

Jurisdiction

Proactive Enforcement

Responsive Enforcement

# of violations/year

Regulated Height

Henrico*

X

 

2,445

12 inches

Chesterfield*

X

 

   825

18 inches

Stafford

X

 

     93

6  inches

Roanoke*

X

 

    300

12 inches

James City*

 

X

     35

Unspecified

Spotsylvania

 

X

     93

15 inches

Frederick*

 

X

     12

18 inches

Henry*

 

X

      57

Must be cut Monthly

Prince George

 

X

      45

15 inches

*Have authority to regulate occupied residential properties

 

 

Building Maintenance Ordinance: 

The County currently has three tools to address building maintenance:

·   The Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code has been adopted by the County, and is administered by the Fire Marshal, in order to assure fire safety in public and commercial buildings, including their sites.  (County Code § 6-200)

·   The County Code includes a provision empowering the building official to order remedial actions, including demolition, for unsafe structures. This is used for dilapidated abandoned structures, on a complaint basis. (County Code § 5-300)

·   Part I of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, entitled the Virginia Construction Code, which is mandated for enforcement throughout the State, includes a provision for addressing unsafe or unhealthy conditions in residential rental property.  Such issues come to the County on a complaint basis, and the complaints must be lodged by the renter of the rental property in question.  (Virginia Code § 36-99)

 

Beyond this authority, Virginia Code § 36-105 allows the County to adopt an ordinance regulating building maintenance under Part III of the Uniform Statewide Building Code, entitled the Virginia Maintenance Code.  The Virginia Maintenance Code includes Chapters 2 through 8 of the 2003 International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC), which provides the technical guidance for determining whether or not buildings are being properly maintained.  The IPMC, as amended for use in Virginia, does not address the cleanliness/sanitation of exterior property, weeds/grass, inoperative motor vehicles, defacement of property/graffiti, or rodent/insect infestations unless they are causing structural damage to the building.  The IPMC does address fire safety inside the building, electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems maintenance and performance, light and ventilation inside the building, interior structural soundness, including stairs, handrails and guardrails, and exterior structural soundness, including weather tightness and resistance to weathering.

 

Staff surveyed several surrounding localities to determine if they have adopted the Virginia Maintenance Code.  The jurisdictions polled are members of the James Madison Building and Code Officials Association, which is a regional gathering of code enforcement offices.

 

Jurisdiction

Virginia Maintenance Code

Jurisdiction

Virginia Maintenance Code

Buckingham County

No

Prince Edward County

No

Fauquier County

No

Cumberland County

No

Madison County

No

Town of Farmville

Yes

Greene County

No

City of Charlottesville

Yes

Orange County

No

City of Fredericksburg

Yes

Fluvanna County

No

Town of Culpeper

Yes

Louisa County

No

 

 

 

Based on this sampling of jurisdictions, it is apparent that the Virginia Maintenance Code is a tool more popularly utilized by urban locales.

 

BUDGET IMPACT:

Grass and Weed Ordinance:  Assuming a similar level of effort as used in Stafford or Spotsylvania County, staff estimates this program would require one-half FTE during the seven month growing season and would require between $5,000 and $10,000 in funding to do mowing where the property owner refuses.  For subsequent years, the cost of that mowing may be recovered through the collection of costs and/or fines.  Additionally, legal assistance from the County Attorney’s office would be necessary to collect costs that are enforced by liens and to prosecute the civil complaints.         

 

Building Maintenance Ordinance:  Based on discussions with City of Charlottesville staff, it is anticipated that a similar program for Albemarle County would require four FTEs for inspections and enforcement, in addition to administrative support and a manager, or code official, to administer a building maintenance enforcement program.  Additionally, building maintenance enforcement is more contentious than building code enforcement and significant legal assistance from the County Attorney’s office is anticipated for prosecuting violations.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

This summary is provided for information.  In the event the Board is interested in further discussion about implementing either of these ordinances, it can be scheduled for a later date. 

 

ATTACHMENTS:

A – Virginia Code § 15.2-901


 

Virginia Code § 15.2-901. Locality may provide for removal or disposal of trash, cutting of grass and weeds; penalty in certain counties.

 

A. Any locality may, by ordinance, provide that:

 

1. The owners of property therein shall, at such time or times as the governing body may prescribe, remove therefrom any and all trash, garbage, refuse, litter and other substances which might endanger the health or safety of other residents of such locality; or may, whenever the governing body deems it necessary, after reasonable notice, have such trash, garbage, refuse, litter and other like substances which might endanger the health of other residents of the locality, removed by its own agents or employees, in which event the cost or expenses thereof shall be chargeable to and paid by the owners of such property and may be collected by the locality as taxes are collected;

 

2. Trash, garbage, refuse, litter and other debris shall be disposed of in personally owned or privately owned receptacles that are provided for such use and for the use of the persons disposing of such matter or in authorized facilities provided for such purpose and in no other manner not authorized by law;

 

3. The owners of vacant developed or undeveloped property therein, including such property upon which buildings or other improvements are located, shall cut the grass, weeds and other foreign growth on such property or any part thereof at such time or times as the governing body shall prescribe; or may, whenever the governing body deems it necessary, after reasonable notice as determined by the locality, have such grass, weeds or other foreign growth cut by its agents or employees, in which event the cost and expenses thereof shall be chargeable to and paid by the owner of such property and may be collected by the locality as taxes are collected. In the City of Williamsburg and in a locality within Planning District 8, an ordinance adopted pursuant to this subdivision may also apply to owners of occupied property therein. No such ordinance adopted by any county shall have any force and effect within the corporate limits of any town. No such ordinance adopted by any county having a density of population of less than 500 per square mile shall have any force or effect except within the boundaries of platted subdivisions or any other areas zoned for residential, business, commercial or industrial use.

 

B. Every charge authorized by this section with which the owner of any such property shall have been assessed and which remains unpaid shall constitute a lien against such property ranking on a parity with liens for unpaid local taxes and enforceable in the same manner as provided in Articles 3 (§ 58.1-3940 et seq.) and 4 (§ 58.1-3965 et seq.) of Chapter 39 of Title 58.1. A locality may waive such liens in order to facilitate the sale of the property. Such liens may be waived only as to a purchaser who is unrelated by blood or marriage to the owner and who has no business association with the owner. All such liens shall remain a personal obligation of the owner of the property at the time the liens were imposed.

 

C. The governing body of any locality may by ordinance provide that violations of this section shall be subject to a civil penalty, not to exceed $50 for the first violation, or violations arising from the same set of operative facts. The civil penalty for subsequent violations not arising from the same set of operative facts within 12 months of the first violation shall not exceed $200. Each business day during which the same violation is found to have existed shall constitute a separate offense. In no event shall a series of specified violations arising from the same set of operative facts result in civil penalties that exceed a total of $3,000 in a 12-month period.

 

D. Except as provided in this subsection, adoption of an ordinance pursuant to subsection C shall be in lieu of criminal penalties and shall preclude prosecution of such violation as a misdemeanor. The governing body of any locality may, however, by ordinance provide that such violations shall be a Class 3 misdemeanor in the event three civil penalties have previously been imposed on the same defendant for the same or similar violation, not arising from the same set of operative facts, within a 24-month period. Classifying such subsequent violations as criminal offenses shall preclude the imposition of civil penalties for the same violation.

 

(Code 1950, § 15-14; 1962, cc. 400, 623, § 15.1-11; 1964, c. 31; 1968, c. 423; 1974, c. 655; 1978, c. 533; 1983, cc. 192, 390; 1990, c. 177; 1992, c. 649; 1994, c. 167; 1997, c. 587; 1999, c. 174; 2000, c. 740; 2001, c. 750; 2003, c. 829; 2006, c. 275.)

 

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