City officials are admonishing property owners to keep their lots maintained free of junk and clutter and to remove any dilapidated and unsafe structures.
During Monday night's city council meeting, Mayor Jimmy Poss said there are clear violations of the city's property maintenance ordinance across town. "There is property in town that has got a lot of junk in the yard. We've looked at it. It's not only one spot. Its more than one spot. It entails a lot of property. I can take you to houses that has been abandoned. Its grown up. The houses need to be torn down. I want to give the property owners a chance to clean it up," said Mayor Poss.
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Those who don't clean up their properties could risk civil penalties. "I just want to make everybody aware that sooner or later we're going to have to send out some citations, "said Mayor Poss.
The city's "Minimum Property Maintenance Requirements" states that "no person owning, leasing, renting, occupying, including vacant lots, shall maintain or allow to be maintained on such property, except as may be permitted by any other city ordinance, any of the following conditions visible from any public street or alley:
Junk, litter and trash;
Outdoor nuisances dangerous to children, including but not limited to abandoned, broken or neglected equipment, machinery, or any appliance with a latching door;
Shopping carts in any front yard, side yard, rear yard or vacant lot of any property;
Dead, decayed, diseased or hazardous trees, or any other vegetation a majority of which (excluding vegetation located in flowerbeds, or trees, or shrubbery or existing hayfields) exceeds twelve (12) inches in height, or which is dangerous to public health, safety, and welfare, located in any front yard, side yard, rear yard, or upon any vacant lot".
"Has the city notified them (property owners in violation) by letter?," asked Alderman Tim Stribling.
"No we haven't done it. I have talked to family members of one house and they're okay with it," answered Mayor Poss.
"I talked with Mr. (Eugene) O'Neil (city building codes inspector) over a year ago and there are a few (unkept properties) over by you (mayor) that we looked at," said Alderman Danny Washer.
"We did send out notices on those," responded Mayor Poss.
Alderman Washer said the problem with some is that the owners of abandoned properties are difficult to locate. "You send them (notices) out to the last known property owner and get no response. That's what he (O'Neil) told me," said Alderman Washer.
Alderman Stribling asked about sending out more notices. "Mayor, on these houses that you're saying you can't find them (property owners), can the city send out the letter that they're supposed to send out and within so many days if they (property owners) don't do it (respond), can the city clean it up and then put a lien on the property?"
"I'm not sure," replied Mayor Poss.
Alderman Washer said according to Mr. O'Neil, if the property owners don't respond to the notices, the city could clean up the properties and charge them for the cost. "I might be wrong but I think what Mr O'Neil told me was that all we can do is add it (city's cost of cleanup) on to their taxes if they don't do nothing," said Alderman Washer.
"I think we need to start by sending out notices to all the city property owners that's not meeting the ordinance requirements," said Alderman Gayla Hendrix. " We could possibly put a fine and a lien on it. I'm not saying fine them up front. You could give them notice that they have so much time to get the property in order to meet the requirements of whatever the ordinance states and let them know that its punishable by a fine if its not cleaned up in a certain amount of time. But we definitely need to give people notice especially if they own property here and maybe live away from here and might not realize the condition (their property) is in. So give them notice. Give them an opportunity to fix it and if they don't then impose a fine," she said.
Alderman Washer said the problem is not just with abandoned houses. " Its also people that do live there and they still junk it up. It ridiculous. We have a lot of people coming into our city that goes right by (some of these properties). It's shameful. I can point you out cars that have set there and not been touched in probably fifteen years. They're just setting there. They do nothing with them. Its not just one (vehicle). They keep adding to it. Next year you'll have another one, and then another one. It just keeps multiplying. It an eyesore. And tires. We're fixing to come into hot weather. That needs to be cleaned up," said Alderman Washer.
Concerned citizen Faye Fuqua suggested having a city cleanup day and to encourage residents throughout town to participate. "I know some people are going to have to be forced (to clean up their properties) but maybe the whole city could have a clean up day and encourage everyone on each street and in each community to do that," said Fuqua.
Alderman Hendrix also encouraged anyone knowing of unkept property to contact city hall or the mayor. "If you have a problem in your neighborhood with property that's not kept notify city hall because sometimes we can't get around to every area," she said.
Mayor Poss said he liked Fuqua's idea of a city cleanup day and may explore that possibility. "Maybe we need to have a city cleanup, like the county has a cleanup. Maybe we need to set a date. We'll see what the people think and try to go with it," he said.
The city's property maintenance ordinance provides for enforcement stating that "It shall be the duty of the Building Inspector of the City of Smithville to serve notice upon the property owner of record in violation. The property owner shall be notified in writing specifying the nature of the violation, specifying the corrective measures to be taken, and require compliance within not more than 30 days. The notice may be served upon the owners of the premises where the violation is located by:
Posting notice in plain view on the property in violation, or sending notice by mail
The date the notice is posted or received by the offender shall serve as the beginning of the specified time period allowing for corrective action."
The ordinance further states that "Failure by the property owner to take corrective action to bring the property within compliance shall constitute a violation and be a civil offense."
"Any person violating this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty of $50 for each separate violation of this chapter. Each day the violation of this chapter continues shall be considered a separate violation," according to the ordinance