America the Messy Yard Police State

Tempe cracks down on messy yard criminals

Tempe readies for code crackdown
By Garin Groff, Tribune
January 20, 2007

So you let the weeds grow 3 feet tall in your front yard. Or you plaster your restaurant with illegal signs. Your days of laziness or outright defiance in Tempe are over.

The city is cracking down on code compliance violations after years of bare-bones staffing that allowed scofflaws to get away with a lot in Tempe.

The complaints about lazy homeowners grew emotional last year as homeowners complained that rental housing, lawn parking and plain old neglect were destroying their aging neighborhoods.

So the city hired 10 employees who work 19 hours a week looking for violations in neighborhoods. In just five months, those part-time employees issued 870 complaints to homeowners, telling them to mow their lawn, get their cars off the lawn or pull tall weeds.

The difference has been striking, City Councilman Ben Arredondo said. In his 12-plus years on the City Council, he recalled getting a complaint about unkempt houses at least once a week.

Now, he said, “I’ve gone the whole month of December and January without hearing about it.”

Arredondo called for the 10-person part-time crew last year as the city drafted new rules on rental housing. The part-time crew only handles the basics — junked cars, unmowed lawns — while eight full-time inspectors look for the same thing and deal with more serious violations.

The city issued 6,935 complaints last year and got 92 percent of residents to comply. The remaining violators will prove difficult to deal with, said Neil Calfee, deputy manager of community development. Some resent an agent of the government telling them what to do with their private property. Others who turn their property into mini-junkyards may have a mental illness. And some are physically unable to care for their property.

“It’s not as simple as somebody is just lazy,” Calfee said.

More than 500 homeowners received fines of $100 to $300 last year before they cleaned up. In rare cases, the city will get court approval to clean the properties and bill the homeowner.

Tempe’s also ramped up enforcement on commercial properties.

The city used to have just one inspector for commercial properties, but it has now expanded the force to five. That means the city is able to have inspectors look for problems instead of relying only on complaints, said Jeff Tamulevich, the commercial code compliance supervisor.

The new employees have been on the job since October. In their first three months, they did 172 inspections, up from 50 the single employee did in the same period a year ago. They’ve warned businesses about illegal signs, unapproved building modifications, unkempt landscaping and other aesthetic issues. Most of the problems were at bars and restaurants that posted illegal banners or signs.

“They just hit the tip of the iceberg,” Tamulevich said. “I think we’re on our way to really cleaning up the city.”

The city doesn’t have definitive numbers on how many businesses have complied, but Tamulevich said it seems nearly everybody has. That is despite the fact the city doesn’t have a way to issue citations or fi nes for commercial violations, said Chris Anaradian, Tempe’s development services manager.

The city is setting up a fine and citation system that should be in place in February, he said. The fines will likely range from $100 to $750.

The city has taken the most defi ant businesses to court in the past, Anaradian said, but only a handful a year. The new fine and citation system should create a middle ground that will get businesses to fi x up their properties without having to get a judge involved, Anaradian said.

“We think we can get to the point of not having extreme offenders,” Anaradian said.

Contact Garin Groff by email, or phone (480) 898-5938


America the Messy Yard Police State