I have a wonderful idea for improving the appearance of communities like ours! First of all, a thoughtful effort should be made to contact the owners of buildings that, in most cases, just need a coat of paint and see if the owner can’t be persuaded to fix up his or her property. If matching funds are available or some other grant programs, cities should do whatever they can to help building owners improve the appearance of their buildings, particularly in the central business district. This won’t be an easy sell for absentee owners who really don’t care very much about the appearance of the property they own – except for collecting the rent from whomever the tenant happens to be.
In those cases where friendly persuasion doesn’t work, my recommendation would be for city councils to pass an ordinance whereby the city can repaint a building that needs it and put the cost of doing the work on the owner’s property tax bill. This approach would really the third step in the process. The first step is the friendly approach to the property owner with offers of whatever assistance is available. The second step is informing the property that if they choose not to repaint, let’s say, they would be politely informed that if they don’t act to improve the appearance of their property, the city will do it and put the bill on the owner’s property tax bill! I’ll bet that more than one property owner would be motivated to take whatever action is needed to avoid having their property taxes increased. Either way, the appearance of the community is improved. The third step is if a property owner can’t afford to take care of a downtown building – and it’s vacant – then the city would take care of it and bill the owner for the work. The other notion here is that if the owner really can’t afford to maintain a piece of property, he or she probably ought to sell it to someone who can take care of it before it becomes another parking lot the community probably doesn’t need. What most communities need are property owners who are civic-minded enough to take care of the property they own.
This same approach, I think, will work in residential neighborhoods as well.
If the grass isn’t being cut by the occupant of a house, renter or owner, an appeal is first made for the occupants to do the job. If they refuse, the same approach is taken: the city cuts the grass and the cost of doing the job is put on the owner’s property tax bill. If the property is occupied by renters, then the owner is going to get the bill for their laziness. My bet would be that the owner is going to encourage the renters to cut the grass regularly – if that’s not already one of the terms in the lease agreement.
What about people who leave junk in the front yard? Same deal! First, a polite request to pick up stuff or take stuff off the porch, explaining that the community is make a serious effort to improve its appearance, and even offering to haul off stuff the resident doesn’t want. If no action is taken, then a notification that the city will remove the stuff from the yard or porch and place it behind the house and that the charge for doing the work would be added to the property taxes of the owner.
Years ago I remember a guy who was extremely stubborn about his “rights” and refused to do much of anything to improve his property. The yard was over grown with weeds. It was also full of junk he collected to sell at some future point, I suppose. Stuff like old tires, car batteries, and other car parts. He also had a junk car sitting on the street up on blocks. The city ordered him to get rid of the car. But here’s the catch – obviously the car wouldn’t run and even if it would, he didn’t have a current license plate on it, nor did he have a current registration certificate for it. So, even if he could get it running, he would be operating it without a license and if he didn’t move it the city was prepared to haul it off as junk. Oh, and by the way, he was declared to be operating a junk yard in a residentially zoned area! The point is, the city had him no matter what he did. When the day came for the city to haul off his junk car, he started jumping up and down on the hood shouting that his rights were being violated. The police showed up and arrested him for disorderly conduct, resisting law enforcement, and operating a common nuisance within the city limits.
When it was all said and down, he left town, abandoned the house and all the junk in and around it. The city ended up with the property, bulldozed the house, hauled off the junk and made a small park out of the site – and everybody in the neighborhood was pleased.
The point, I believe, is there are ways to make the town more attractive, but it certainly would be better if people wanted to be good citizens and keep their property well-kept. Communities grow and thrive when their citizens take pride in maintaining the appearance of the homes and buildings they own. Nobody wants to move to a town that looks like it’s gone to seed. Being civic minded is critical to the life of a community. It comes down to simple things like sweeping sidewalks, keeping weeds from growing through cracks in the sidewalk, picking up toys and keeping bikes off the sidewalk and out of the front yard, putting a fresh coat of paint on store fronts and generally giving a damn about the place in which you live. The ordinance I mentioned will probably never be passed, but communities like ours ought to at least think seriously about it.
That’s—30—for this week.