Yarmouth Problem Property Complaints Catch Eye of Town Officials

A burned out property along Route 28 in West Yarmouth

YARMOUTH – It seems almost every town has at least one problem property – the completely unkempt home in the neighborhood with trash spread all over the uncut lawn, that may or may not be deserted, and is in violation of numerous health and safety codes.

Officials in Yarmouth are considering methods of dealing with an increase in the amount of complaints of problem properties, including drafting and implementing legislation on the issue.

Yarmouth Selectman Mike Stone says he’s in favor of exploring the possibility of enacting stricter bylaws that include fines that can be imposed on those in violation.

“It’s the old debate of ‘it’s my property, I can do what I want with it.’ The typical police power of this state is exercised through zoning, that’s an intrusion in a sense on somebody’s property rights. So, you don’t really have the right to do whatever you want with your property, that’s really a false premise,” Stone explained.

“My sympathies are more with the person who has to live next door to this or see this every day, and it devalues their property. It interferes with their right to private enjoyment of their property and it can invite certain health issues.”

Yarmouth Building Commissioner and Director of Municipal Inspections Mark Grylls says the town has responded to nearly 350 complaints throughout the 2018 fiscal year. The complaints reported building code and health violations, rat infestation, excessive trash, hazardous materials, unsafe structures, illegal occupancy and overcrowding, among others.

“Some of them aren’t so obvious. Where the house is empty, the grass is overgrown, the paint is peeling, the bushes are overgrown, and nobody lives there. But we get numerous complaints about these types of properties every year,” explained Grylls.

Successfully addressing these unkempt properties can be a bit of a challenge, with many of these owners suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues, leading to a repetition of the problem.

“The cause of it, whether somebody’s a hoarder or they have alcoholism or whatever doesn’t engender a lot of sympathy from me, I’m more concerned with the person that’s keeping up their property that has to live with seeing these unkempt properties,” said Stone.

A possible measure town officials have discussed is the creation of a blight bylaw or to modify an already existing bylaw.

Grylls said the town has also been working with the Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative to share and identify the addresses of up to 10 problem properties. Next, the Attorney General would authorize administrative warrants for inspectors to search the homes and draft violations reports. If negotiations fail, the property can then be held in court-appointed receivership in accordance with the state sanitary code.

The City of New Bedford has been faced with the same issue of unkempt problem properties for years, due mostly to absentee landlords that live in different states across the country.

The city currently has an ordinance in place, stating that a property can be added to a “problem properties list,” and the cost of future police responses can be charged directly to the property owner.

In January, New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell, with support from various members of the City Council, began the process of the cutting the number of police complaints it takes land on the list from eight down to four.

Mitchell also proposed additional changes to ordinances this year, including a proposed decrease in the number of days problem property landlords have to clean up excessive trash, damage, and hazardous materials before facing fines and penalties.

Another proposal the city has entertained is an ordinance to require certain non-owner occupied buildings to post a sign with contact information of the property owner or manager inside the building’s public area. Non-owner single-family occupied homes are excluded from the requirement.

By TIM DUNN, CapeCod.com News Center

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