Habitual violators of Lansing's city code may soon find themselves facing stiffer fines and faster court appearances.
City council members discussed several options Thursday to handle what they consider habitual violations of such codes as not mowing lawns in a timely fashion. City staff suggested proposals they'd originally brought forward in 2000 that would have made some of those changes, and council members will likely consider them when they vote on code changes late next month.
Mayor Billy Blackwell said the intent of Thursday's work session was to come up with enforceable and fair codes and to close loopholes that repeat offenders have previously used.
Part of the issue has been the timeline before such offenders have to go before the municipal judge, he said. Council members are interested in what he called a "strategy for more proactive code enforcement."
The idea, he said, is to remove obstacles for staff to handle such situations in a proactive manner and provide some guidance to City Administrator Mike Smith on the code and its enforcement.
Smith said one suggestion after observing and talking to code officers was to make violators "go to the front of the line" instead of giving them 60 days. The example he used was property owners who let grass grow higher than the code allows. Once they were tracked down, he said, they would have to come before the judge on the next court date.
In the past, he said, council members were more inclined toward voluntary compliance, but since the present council wants more aggressive enforcement, that could be done, subject to state laws.
City prosecutor Catalina Thompson said local codes can't change the requirements for service, that is, giving notice to the property owner, but the process could be speedier in other ways.
"We have to make sure we serve the correct party in the correct way," Thompson said. In the past, there has been an abatement period allowing time to correct the problem, but the city could choose to go straight to citations. However, that's not what council members ultimately decided on.
Council member Andi Pawlowski said they're mainly concerned about what she called the "habituals," who frequently receive general 30-day notices because of the same violations. Council member Don Studnicka asked if the property occupant should be notified, instead of the property owner, especially if the landlord lives far away.
The problem with that, Thompson said, is that they can't get assessments for anyone but the property owner. John Jacobsen, community development director, said both are served notice at the same time. But more times than not, he said, the occupant isn't going to mow the grass anyway, and the city ends up abating it. The city needs to be able to assess those costs to someone, because the budget for that is not large.
Page 2 of 2 - What could be done, and what building inspector Rebecca Savidge said had been proposed in 2000, would be raising the administrative fees charged for such abatements. Property owners can be assessed the cost of the mowing as well as an administrative fee, which she said hasn't been raised since she has worked there. Jacobsen suggested a $100 administrative fee.
The prosecuting attorney said what drags out the timeline is tracking down the property owner, especially if they live out of town. Smith said there are companies that do that kind of work, and they can check on costs. Right now, the issue for city staff is time and money, he said.
Other violations mentioned during Thursday's discussion were snow removal in residential areas and other items such as a swimming pool with a chain link fence that has holes in it.
Ultimately, Blackwell summarized the direction council members want staff to pursue in rewriting that part of the code.
They don't want to go straight to citations, he noted, and the focus should be on repeat offenders. Council members also favored increasing the administrative fees.