Cities cracking down on neighborhood blight Codes get stricter, enforcement more consistent

Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic

Jim Trammel, Glendale's code compliance inspector, writes a complaint for an inoperable auto in a yard.

By Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 17, 2002

Jim Trammel drives up and down the streets of Glendale searching for culprits: overgrown weeds, garbage piled in front yards and busted cars on blocks.

In one front yard, dead leaves are trapped in cobwebs sagging across the bottom of a Blazer with a flat tire.

The flat tire means an inoperable vehicle, which residents aren't allowed to store in public view. The code cop writes a complaint and tapes it to the homeowner's door.

Glendale is cracking down on problem properties, as are dozens of cities and towns Valley-wide. Scottsdale has created an administrative court, which goes into business next month, to slash the time it takes to deal with offenders.

Avondale residents on a council-appointed committee have been drafting new property standards. The city also hired another person to enforce the soon-to-be-adopted standards. And Paradise Valley recently hired a second officer to help keep up the town's appearance.

Cities are trying to respond to residents who know a single bad yard can affect the looks of an entire block, raise the stress levels of neighbors and knock down a home's sales appeal.

Mike Barron, a southeast Valley real estate agent, said that recently he and a client pulled up to a house that looked wonderful. But the one next door had 10-inch high grass and a car parked on the front lawn.

"The client didn't even want to go in," he said. "They said, 'Let's go to the next house.' "

Barron said poor maintenance can also affect the selling price.

"If the neighbors' homes have exterior maintenance that is not up to speed, it has an impact on the speed of the sale," he said. "If it takes you longer to sell your house, the more likely you are to accept a lower offer."

It's something that residents like Kevin Biesty of Mesa understand.

"If we don't take care of our properties and keep them clean, nobody will," he said. "It's incumbent on each homeowner to take care of the property, and it makes it easier to sell your house at a reasonable price."

Glendale and Avondale officials and community members are working to create property upkeep laws that address landscaping, fences and the outside of a home.

Some changes have been made in Glendale's code enforcement. Rather than just following up on complaints, the officers are hitting every house, one neighborhood at a time. Instead of 15 days to correct most problems, residents now have 10. Similar offenses within 24 months will result in a resident being deemed a repeat offender; courts get involved after a third offense. In the past, the slate was wiped clean after a year.

"This has been an issue for those people who don't seem to get it," said Dan Gunn, the city's code compliance manager.

He said his officers try to speak with homeowners to explain the codes. If homeowners aren't around, a brochure explaining common violations is left.

"Really, at some point it's incumbent on the citizen to read it and learn what the codes are," he said. "Although we have strengthened our compliance processes, our main goal still remains voluntary compliance."

Most Valley residents willingly clean up problems when they are pointed out.

Chandler police Sgt. Ken Phillips said more than 95 percent of complaints are resolved without court action.

But there are those who refuse to clean up.

Phoenix, which has led the charge in neighborhood preservation, put a repeat offender policy in place this year.

"It's to go after those who are in the system longer than six months," Phoenix Councilman Phil Gordon said. "It allows the repeat offenders and the worst of the worst to be expedited through the criminal process."

Tempe officials a few months ago adopted language from the state's slum law to make sure rental property owners register with the Maricopa County Assessors Office so if problems arise, the city knows who to call. They also made the same rules apply to rental and owner-occupied properties, holding everyone to the same standard.

Avondale officials are also tackling troubled rentals as they craft a new set of property laws that will go before the council early next year.

"We're looking for ways to make our community look good," Avondale Fire Marshal Steve Ellsworth said. "This gives the city a way to deal with neighbors who don't want to keep their properties up to standards."

David Smith of Avondale, who sits on the code committee, said most of citizens' concerns could be addressed with property codes, which the city lacks.

"Some of these properties were really degenerating into slums, and we don't want to see that blight in our neighborhood," he said.

Enforcing clean neighborhoods

AVONDALE: A council-appointed committee is drafting new property maintenance laws.

GLENDALE: Code cops are pro-active in dealing with problem properties, and city officials are creating codes to deal with blighted properties.

MESA: A tool lending program is free for community groups and registered neighborhoods.

It includes rakes, shovels, yard tools. Call (480) 644-2061. Phoenix and Tempe offer similar programs.

PARADISE VALLEY: Two full-time code officers patrol the streets.

PHOENIX: Neighborhood or Block Watch groups listed with the Neighborhood Services Department may receive paint and borrow paint sprayers to clean up graffiti. Residents interested in borrowing the equipment must attend a free training session. Call Graffiti Busters at (602) 495-0323.

SCOTTSDALE: Repeat offenders in December will face an administrative court, which aims to be less formal and rapidly deal with property code violators.

TEMPE: Neighbors of Tempe Improving Code Efforts (NOTICE) is a voluntary program that encourages neighborhoods to get involved in resolving code problems. Neighbors are trained to identify code violations and issue notices. Information: (480) 350-8370.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-6925.

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