Mowing the lawn, painting the house, cleaning the pool--these tasks don't rank high on anyone's list of favorite things to do.
But if you neglect any of these tasks long enough in the City of Orange, you may receive a visit from a code enforcement inspector. And if you don't break out the gardening tools and get to work, you could get a $50 fine.
An ordinance given preliminary approval Tuesday by the Orange City Council sets down minimum standards for home maintenance, "with the objective of assuring properties which are not a detriment to the city." The standards:
- Yards and lawns, including public parkways, shall be maintained and be of such height and condition so as not to constitute a fire hazard.
- Noxious fumes or odors emitted from any residential property must be snuffed out.
- Exterior walls and surfaces must be maintained in good condition and treated to prevent deterioration.
- Swimming pools must be cleaned before they become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Abandoned or inoperative vehicles left more than 10 days must be removed.
- All closed buildings must be locked and boarded up.
Assistant City Atty. Gene R. Minshew, who began working on the ordinance about a year ago at the direction of the council, said many other cities have similar laws, including Anaheim, Cerritos and Modesto. Other cities in the county have laws that deal with public nuisances and various other aspects covered by the new ordinance, but only Orange and Anaheim have such comprehensive and specific standards, Minshew said.
City Manager J. William Little said he doesn't expect to see many fines imposed, especially since the law contains provisions for appeals and warnings. "I think it would have to be a pretty flagrant violation," he said.
The $50 maximum fine that Orange can assess is paltry compared to Anaheim's authority to levy a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail for violations. Anaheim code enforcement supervisor John Poole said he knows of nobody actually serving jail time, but he says several people have had to pay fines of more than $1,000 for multiple offenses since the law was passed in 1981.
Some residents of Orange have complained that neighbors will call to report people who don't mow their lawns every weekend, but Minshew said, "We're really not worried about mowed lawns. It's just the people who let it go until it becomes a fire hazard."
For example, he said, the law wouldn't be enforced against someone whose grass grew to two inches, but it would be against on someone who let the lawn grow to six inches. "So you do get into a subjective thing with the definition of what constitutes a hazard," he admitted. "But then fire codes are full of those subjective terms."
Some homeowners attended the Tuesday night council meeting and argued both sides of the ordinance. Minshew said he wrote a similar ordinance regarding commercial and industrial property that drew no protest at all. "But a man's home is his castle," he said.
Many of the problems are already handled by existing ordinances, so there's no need for another law, argued Norman Phillips, a resident who described the plan as "absolutely unnecessary and redundant."
Others protested the law's impact on the elderly, who might have difficulty cleaning up their property, and questioned whether it could survive a legal challenge.
Council members, who gave preliminary approval to the law pending a second reading at their next meeting, stressed that the ordinance is intended to prevent deterioration before it starts.