"One man's junk is another man's treasure"
-- Proverb of recent origin
At some point in the life of every community there will be a push to clean up the town. The good news is that it is usually a small minority that has to be motivated by the force of law to be good neighbors and residents.
Utah law gives cities and towns the power to regulate the abatement of noxious weeds, garbage, refuse or an illegal object or structure (Utah code 10-11-1). To do this, the governmental body of a city or town must first set some standards by ordinance. These should be reasonable and related to the health, safety and welfare of the community.
A good ordinance is one that anyone can read and immediately understand what is expected. On the flip side, a bad ordinance is one that a person cannot tell whether he or she is in compliance until a code enforcement inspector tells them so.
The ordinance should establish the position of a code enforcement officer or inspector. The duties of this officer are to inspect the community for the existence of conditions that violate a city ordinance, to determine who owns the property, and to give notice in writing to correct the problem (Utah Code 10-11-2).
Obviously, the code enforcer is expected to know and understand the ordinance, and is likely asked to perform their role more as a diplomat than as a police officer. Of note is that what one man sees as junk, another may consider an antique collection.
The notice of a violation must be in writing and can be served either personally or by mail to the last known address as shown by the county assessor's list of property owners. It must give a minimum of 10 days to clean up the property. The inspector can give a longer compliance time frame with the expectation of working with people, as long as they show a willingness to conform to the ordinance. A period of less than 10 days cannot be imposed on violators by an enforcement officer to clean up if the city or town wants to implement the abatement and lien mechanisms of state law.
If there is a serious health or safety problem that must be taken care of immediately, there are other procedures the governing body can follow. Examples of those are the fire and health codes.
A heavy-handed process of cleaning up a community is never a pleasant means of enforcement. It has its downside and can be adversarial.
Voluntary compliance is the best possible direction for a community to follow before resorting to forced cleanup.
Nevertheless, sometimes it is necessary to use a stick as well as the carrot.
Steve Curtis has worked as a business consultant and communication specialist. He is currently mayor of Layton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.