Owners of unsightly Penn Township property on notice

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 8:07 p.m.

Cut the grass — or else.

Penn Township property owners who habitually fail to trim unsightly high grass and weeds could face civil penalties for violating the township's property-maintenance code.

Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to advertise an amendment to an ordinance that would authorize Penn Township to file a civil action or municipal lien to recoup the costs incurred when a township employee or contractor cuts the grass and weeds after a code violation.

The amendment would enable township officials to press the issue in either civil or criminal court.

In particular, officials want to discourage repeat offenders, such as one property that Commissioner Larry Harrison said has been a problem this year and last.

Harrison, who initially raised the topic of stiffer penalties, said he has received several calls this spring about an overgrowth of weeds and grass on some properties.

According to township code, property owners are required to keep “all premises and exterior property” within 50 feet of an occupied structure free from weeds or plant growth higher than 10 inches.

In a couple of instances this spring, Harrison said, someone cut the grass but not around the building, shrubs or trees.

“Can you say they cut the grass? Yes,” Harrison said. “But does it meet the standards of the community or the neighborhood that the residents are a part of? Heck no.”

The township already has had a practice of placing a lien on overgrown properties, but the amendment would give the township the option to file a court action so a judge could order the reimbursement.

When factoring in the cost of the employee's time cutting the property, his benefits and the equipment used, the lien usually ends up between $200 and $300, township manager Bruce Light said.

Most of the complaints that township officials receive are from homeowners in residential plans who are upset about a neighbor's yard, he said.

“We don't really want to collect the money; we just want the grass cut,” Light said.

Township officials already have the ability to file a criminal action in which a district judge could fine a property owner up to $1,000, plus the costs of prosecution.

If the violator fails to pay, he or she faces a potential jail sentence of as many as 30 days.

Solicitor Les Mlakar said Harrison City District Judge Helen Kistler has been known in a few cases to impose a jail sentence for a landowner's failure to maintain property.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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