MOUNT VERNON — The bright green, neatly sculpted and landscaped lawn surrounding the home of Gene and Virginia Doup is a reflection of the pride the couple has in the residence and the neighborhood. They have lived in their West Gambier Street neighborhood for over 40 years.
Unfortunately for the Doups, the abandoned house next door is turning into an overgrown collection of grass, dandelions and shrubbery.
“There have been people in the house on and off for about a year and a half; no one really there in the last six months,” Gene said. “Last year neighbors pitched in and kept the grass cleaned up.”
Doup said he and other neighbors are reluctant to mow the grass this year because it is back in control of a bank.
“I figure a bank has plenty of money to get someone in and take care of the property,” he said. “It has never been mowed this year. I’d say 99 percent of it is above the city’s 8-inch rule.”
Larry Fogle, Mount Vernon city code enforcement officer, said the city has an ordinance that requires property owners to maintain their lawns, or the city can mow the property and add the service fee to the property tax.
“I log a complaint when it comes in and then physically inspect the property,” Fogle explained. “Sometimes the grass could be cut by the time you get there.”
Of his list of 40 properties with overgrown grass, Fogle said about a quarter of those are in some level of foreclosure, either taken over by the bank, abandoned by the former owner or in limbo between the owner and the bank. Tracking down who is actually responsible can be a tedious and time-consuming project, he said, especially when dealing with an out-of-state bank.
Fogle allows for due diligence when alerting the property owner of the situation and the violation of the city ordinance. Once contacted, the homeowner has five days to remedy the situation before city employees mow the property.
“The fee is exorbitant, so I think contact should be made before any further action takes place,” Fogle said.
The fee, Fogle said, is based on how much time and manpower is required to clean up the property. In addition, an administrative fee is tacked on, which is equal to the labor fee. For those with more than one violation, fees in increments of $50, up to $150, are added for subsequent mowings.
Although Fogle’s position is a part-time job, he said this time of year it could certainly be a 40-hour per week job.
“I try to be understanding of the public,” Fogle said. “But, I hope they are understanding of where I am coming from as well. With a grass complaint, it can take a couple of weeks for action. We have to give whoever is responsible time for action.”
As homeowners and the owners of rental properties, the Doups said they are well aware of their rights and responsibilities. What they don’t understand, they said, is why the process takes so long when the situation only gets worse with every day that passes by and every rain that feeds the grass.
“If we have a property that is vacant over the summer, I have to get out and mow the lawn,” said Doup. “I’ve done my part and let the city know what’s going on next door. I guess we will just have to wait and see.”
Complaints of high grass or dilapidated buildings can be directed to Fogle at 393-9400.