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Continued: Suburbs crack down on problem landlords, homeowners

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 27, 2014 - 6:04 AM

In addition to taking steps on apartments, Roseville started conducting regular outside inspections of all homes and commercial properties a few years ago. Every neighborhood is to be inspected every four years and residents notified if there are code violations.

Some people bristle at the idea of more government meddling, but many are pleased to see budding problems addressed, officials say.

Homeowners appear to be getting the message. In 2009, about 7.6 percent of homes inspected under the “neighborhood enhancement program” were found to have a violation; in 2013, the number was 3.5 percent. Citizen complaints about neighbors’ houses also fell, from 736 in 2009 to 425 last year.

The Burnsville experience

Burnsville, a city of 60,000, has wrestled with similar issues.

“We’ve had many complaints from our residents about different maintenance issues around the city,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. “We had very big issues with one of our rental properties. They had so many code violations we had to really come down hard.”

Burnsville launched its new inspection program in January 2013. All of the city’s nearly 8,500 rentals, including apartments and single-family homes, are licensed and inspected inside and out.

In addition, all properties, including single-family homes and businesses, undergo a drive-by inspection on a three-year basis.

“When your city ages, you want it to age gracefully and also to make sure our property values are maintained and enhanced,” Kautz said.

Since the program started, the city has sent hundreds of letters to property owners pointing out code violations and calling for corrective action. In one manufactured-home community, 304 out of 318 residents were notified of violations last year. The city also has discovered and taken action against more than 30 hoarding houses.

The most common violation is trash containers visible from the street. The city issued letters for 635 trash can violations in 2013 and 294 this year. Other common violations: illegal exterior storage; illegal exterior structures; weeds above 8 inches tall; campers or trailers illegally parked in yards; peeling paint, and unregistered vehicles parked in driveways.

Violators are sent a letter. Failure to comply results in a second letter and a $110 re-inspection fee. Residents who refuse to cooperate will receive a criminal citation and court date. Most people comply. In 2013, 48 citations were issued.

The key to the program’s success has been that nobody is above the law and everyone faces inspection, Forslund said. “If you are going to have an enforcement program, you have to be uniform and consistent.”

Ted Oakland, armed with an iPad and camera, is the face of the Burnsville program. The city’s proactive enforcement officer, he slowly drives the neighborhoods, checking for violations and following up on open cases. He drives by a boarded-up, fire-damaged split-level in an otherwise tidy neighborhood. The fire happened in February. He’s been checking with the owners to make sure they’re scheduling a teardown. Before the inspection program, some such homes sat for years.

Driving by another home, he points to a small trailer parked on the side lawn. That’s a violation. Another home has a dozen cars on the front lawn and driveway. The owner is suspected of running a used-car sales operation from his home. Oakland is on the case.

In one yard, there’s a curious sculpture and a grouping of wagon wheels. That’s all right. “You can’t regulate taste,” Oakland explained.

He said most people are cooperative so long as their neighbors are held to the same standards.

Still, the new crackdown doesn’t sit well with everyone.

  • related content

  • For its inspection program, Burnsville does drive-by checks every three years of all properties, including businesses and single-family homes like this fire-damaged one.

  • Burnsville inspector Ted Oakland says most people cooperate as long as neighbors face equal scrutiny.

  • Illegal parking in yards is one of the most common violations in Burnsville. Violators get a letter, and a second notice comes with a $110 bill.

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