News

Code compliance grows up

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

For the past 17 years, ornery Federal Way residents have accumulated countless fines for stubbornly refusing to obey the city’s code compliance regulations.

Until this year, the city has often turned its head the other way when it came to collecting payment from non-complying residents who continually and routinely refuse to abide by the city’s rules pertaining to property maintenance.

But the city amended its codes, pertaining to this issue, in October 2007. This allows staff to issue tickets for non-compliance and take residents to Superior Court if those citations are not paid. Staff training on the amendment is complete and code compliance officers will begin issuing tickets this month, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said.

“Citations will be used for junk cars, grass that is too tall or garbage (that) needs to be picked up,” Interim Community Development manager Greg Fewins said.

The ticket is similar to a traffic citation, Farmer said. The city will give residents a warning prior to issuing a ticket, amounting to $100 for first-time offenses, $200 for second-time offenses and $300 for third-time offenses, she said. The citation can be payed, contested or addressed in court to explain the circumstances. If the ticket is not excused or payed, the city has the option of pursuing court action, Farmer said.

“I’m not sure you can ever prevent (a code violation), but it will allow the city to address it better,” Fewins said.

The city may seek a judgment, Farmer said. This would require the resident to pay the city what is owed for the code violation upon sale of the property or death, she said. The previous process was too lax and allowed for residents to simply ignore the city’s requests.

“It didn’t look like the city meant business,” Farmer said. “We are trying to make it a more business-like process.”

Outdated method:

In the past, a code compliance officer would visit the site of non-compliance, inform the resident of the violation and request he or she take care of it.

A timeframe would be set forth for the changes to take place, and the officer would visit the site again at the conclusion of this period. If the issue, such as a junk car in the yard or improper disposal of garbage, had still not been addressed, a $100-per-day fine would accrue until the resident was found to be in compliance with the city code, city staff attorney Monica Buck said in an August 2007 interview.

“(Code compliance officers) would go back and work with them time after time, but there was no incentive there for the homeowner (to comply with the code),” she said.

Prime example:

Such was the case at a home on Southwest 325th Street.

Beginning in 1993 and continuing through 2007, the city and neighbors took note of the messy yard, mossy roof, rats and vehicles parked at the residence. In August, former Community Development Coordinator Kathy McClung gave testimony to the city council that the resident owed between $40,000 to $60,000 for continually refusing to clean his yard. The exact amount the man owed was not clear.

Since that time, a resolution to the issue was presented. The property owner was unable or unwilling to clean his property, so the city hired a contractor to remove the junk cars and debris and rid the property of rodents. The property owner agreed to repay the city for its efforts within a 30-day time period. Machinery and manpower brought the property into compliance, but 30 days came and went without the $12,401 reimbursement to the city ($9,218 in contractors fees and $3,183 in city administrative fees).

The situation partially spurred the change in the city’s code compliance regulations.

“It really isn’t about the money; it’s about getting the property cleaned up,” Farmer said. “The fine is there as an incentive.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Learn more:

The city is currently pursuing Superior Court action against the resident on Southwest 325th Street. A judgment will be sought and one day the city may see the $12,401 reimbursed. The city agreed to waive the resident’s previous penalties so long as he maintains his property free of code violations for two years, Interim Community Development manager Greg Fewins said.

“It was a bargaining thing to allow us to go onto his property and clean it up on a cost-recovery basis,” he said.

As of Jan. 16, a small tree and green grass had replaced the garbage and junk cars that were on the property a few months ago.

To learn more about the city’s code amendments, visit www.cityoffederalway.com and read the Civil Infraction Ordinance number 07-564.

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