Not mowing the lawn regularly, having a missing shingle, and even failing to put curtains or screens on windows can lead to thousands of dollars in fines in some communities – and even jail if fines aren’t paid.
Pagedale, Missouri, residents Valarie and Vincent Blount face $1,810 in fines for such offenses as having peeling paint, having an overgrown tree and also not recycling, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Other residents have been fined for having barbecue pits and toys in the front yard, for having basketball hoops in the street, for not making their children wear bicycle helmets, and for walking in the street.
A court appearance is necessary for each citation.
“Every year. Every year,” Vincent Blount said of the city housing and sanitation inspector. “They just got me again.”
It apparently is a way for the city – which sits in St. Louis County — to make extra revenue. The fines often leave residents with no money to make repairs. It also can lead to trouble at work, because court appearances take place during daytime, when residents often are working.
In April, the couple received a list of 17 demands from the city that included: add screens and curtains to windows, remove a dead branch from a tree, use weed killer, finish repairing the garage, replace a missing shingle, and install a rear screen door. If the Blounts did not comply with the list, they would face even more fines. Vincent Blount has been jailed four times – a day or two each – for not paying the fines, the newspaper reported.
The couple is paying $100 a month to the city on an installment plan. One reason why the Blounts could not make some of the repairs they were cited for was that they had to spend all their extra cash paying fines.
“We get by, but we don’t have all this money in the bank,” Vincent Blount said.
Cities Accused of Using Code Violation Fines as a Revenue Source
Around a dozen cities in the St. Louis suburbs appear to be using code violation fines as a revenue source, The Post-Dispatch discovered.
The amount of code violation tickets written in Pagedale has increased by 500 percent in the past five years, and inspectors wrote 2,255 code violations in 2014. The town’s population is 3,307. In fact, The Post-Dispatch estimated that inspectors wrote two tickets for every household in the city in the past year.
City officials claim that the rules are to improve the look of the city and to make everyone safer. They also say they give residents several days to make repairs and tend to matters before fines start. But a reporter for the newspaper found that some citations gave residents only one day, for instance, to mow the grass before fines began.
Resident Judy Nolen complained that an inspector had refused to give her time to cut her grass when she was ticketed. She works full time and had to ask her brother to do it, the newspaper said.
Pagedale isn’t the only such town.
“We’ve definitely cracked down on code violations,” Calverton Park Mayor Jim Paunovich told The Post-Dispatch. “We sent about 100 last week.
“If you have gutters hanging down, if the grass is too high, if you cut down a tree, and it’s just lying in the yard,” Paunovich said of the offenses that could lead to a citation.
A woman in Hanley Hills, Missouri, was fined $2,986 for such offenses as having no sticker on her car and for having high grass. The city added to the fines because the woman did not appear in court. The woman contends she was unable to reach court because she had to care for her 93-year-old mother and a special needs child. She asked if she could do community service instead of paying off the fines, but the town declined.
Around 62 percent of citations in Hanley Hills are from non-traffic violations. In Dellwood, Missouri, it’s 60.5 percent, and in Pagedale, it’s 40 percent.
Things could soon get much worse for St. Louis-area residents. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is expected to sign a law that would limit the amount of revenue municipalities can raise from traffic tickets. Some observers expect governments will make up the lost revenues by writing more code violation tickets.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that because (the bill) is limited to moving violations it would be very easy for these towns to simply shift to property violations or sagging pants or these other issues,” attorney Thomas Harvey, a critic of such fines, told the newspaper.
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