Bradenton neighborhood to discuss code enforcement procedures, fines with city

mvalverde@bradenton.comJune 17, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Cheri Fugate-Fowler recently got a letter in the mail unlike any other she had received before.

"Never has anything like this ever come," said the Bradenton Parkview neighborhood resident.

The letter dated June 6 outlined five property violations that needed to be addressed within 30 days. Or she possibly could be fined up to $250 per day.

The chores on her new to-do list included pressure washing her house, installing a fence or barrier around her pool, and taking care of an overgrown yard and flower beds.

About 40 other neighbors received similar letters, she said.

"Each of us received one letter with various things mentioned about each of our properties," she said. "I am myself currently enrolled in a government program to modify my loan so that I don't lose my home to foreclosure. ... How can they expect us to put money into the house when we are losing it?"

Concerned and upset by the list of demands, deadlines and costs associated with the repairs and fines, about 30 Parkview neighbors gathered outside Fugate-Fowler's residence Thursday evening to plan a course of action.

The neighborhood's wave of letters is not the first to be delivered.

In 2011, there were 2,540 home inspections in Bradenton, according to Volker Reiss, the city's compliance manager.

About 3 percent of the cases were

referred to the Code Enforcement Board and fewer than 15 property owners were fined, Reiss said. Most residents usually complied and their properties were brought up to code, he said.

"Baby steps are fine for us," Reiss said. "Some people are slow and do whatever at the time they are able to. It's not really a hard fast time limit, if people talk to us."

Code enforcement boards were set up through state law and Bradenton has been performing inspections and issuing citations since at least 2003, he said.

"I want to be in compliance," Fugate-Fowler said. "I just want it to be fair."

At the Thursday gathering, a Parkview resident was chosen to represent the neighborhood Monday at the Code Enforcement Board meeting. Residents said they would also attend the June 27 Bradenton City Council meeting to voice their concerns and to ask for a lowering of the fines.

"Legally, we have to tell people there is a consequence for not complying," Reiss said. "But any type of fine is at the very, very end of the lengthy process."

Nellie Mullaney said she had lived in the Parkview area, which is near G.T. Bray park, for 34 years and this was the first time she had ever been cited. Her letter stated she needed to place numbers on her house to indicate her address. Her house had recently being worked on and she had forgotten to put the numbers back, she said.

Following the letter, the numbers have been restored, Mullaney said.

The most common types of citations issued are for grass and shrubbery overgrowth and for homes that need washing or a new coat of paint, Reiss said. Costs to repair homes averaged under $200, according to Reiss.

Fugate-Fowler urged her neighbors to stand together and work to help other neighborhoods to not be surprised by similar letters.

"The braid is stronger than the strand," she said. "We need to make those that don't live in this circle realize they could be next."

Neighbors brought chairs to the hourlong meeting and glanced over each other's letters to identify what each one had been cited for. "What is wrong with her yard?" one neighbor said to another in seeming disbelief.

A code enforcement officer is sent out to neighborhoods after receiving a direct complaint from a resident or after an elected official is notified by a ward resident, said Reiss. When the officer gets to the location of the alleged violation, he or she inspects other properties in the area in case others are not compliant as well, he said.

"We don't pick and choose homes, we go house by house in a neighborhood," Reiss said.

Teena Quittschreiber said her property had been cited for grass overgrowth, even though it had been cut just three days before the letter was dated.

"I think they need to review the citations," she said. "They give a lot of them that are not justly served."

After the citations are issued, an officer returns to the property within the letter's specified timeframe to check if the problems have been addressed, Reiss said.

"Some people need longer than that. We have people working on issues for quite a while," Reiss said. "What we always hope is that if someone gets a letter like that, that they call the code enforcement officer and tell them what they are going to do. If someone has an issue we urge them to get in contact with us and tell us what the issue is."

All letters have the name and phone number of the inspecting officer, he said.

If properties are vacant and in foreclosure, the banks are contacted to take care of the properties, "with various degrees of success," Reiss said.

He said code enforcement officers go into neighborhoods before they start deteriorating.

"We do it before it gets bad," he said. "When it's easy and cheap to fix."

The goal of code enforcement is to help keep a good quality of life, he said. "Deteriorating conditions attract deteriorating conditions," Reiss said, adding that there was a correlation between neighborhoods that were up to code and the lack of crime.

"What quality of life do you want in your neighborhood?" he said. "Do you want a deteriorating downhill type of neighborhood where things are sliding, or do you want a nice, liveable neighborhood?"

Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamValverde.

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