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Homeowners to be charged for property cleanups
‘Last resort’ ordinance invokes after all efforts exhausted

Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved a property maintenance ordinance allowing the Town to maintain derelict property and charge the cost to the property owner at its meeting, Thursday, Sept. 10.

“This draft ... adds language to make it clear this is a last resort for property owners,” Town Attorney Tom Hale said.

“What this particular ordinance does is it gives the Town authority ... to [fix] problem properties ... that present a danger to the health, safety and welfare of neighboring property owners,” he added.

The expectation of the ordinance, Hale said, is that neighbors with complaints on problem properties should exercise all other options before contacting the Town to fix it, a process audience member and former alderman Tom Rosseel took issue with.

“It seems to me that the people that are complaining that want something done should take some action to bring the problem to the attention of their neighbors,” Hale said.

That could include, he added, talking to the problem property owner, calling a homeowners association or even filing a lawsuit.

Rosseel asked what steps neighbors must take before qualifying for Town aid, particularly in special cases, such as in neighborhoods without homeowners associations or when the problem property owner could not be located.

“I can certainly see a situation where someone is a senior citizen, they might feel intimidated. They’re not about to go to a neighbor and ask politely, ‘Can you please cut your lawn?’” Rosseel said.

“It can be a little scary for them to even talk to a neighbor.

“It’s not clear to me what the trigger mechanism is for this,” he added.

Rosseel asked for specific language designating the proper process for neighbors with complaints, a kind of “to-do” list before calling the Town.

Hale said he left the language vague intentionally so he would not tie the hands of property owners or the Town Administrator.

“There was reluctance on the members of the Board to put into place some kind of mandatory procedure that we did not have any discretion in determining,” Hale said.

He added the Town Administrator had final judgment on the property: whether it qualified for a Town fix, and whether a neighbor had done what was reasonable in his situation to address the problem himself.

“You can’t write an ordinance with every conceivable action listed,” Mayor Ralph McGill said.

“I think this is going to be too vague to be useful,” Rosseel said.

Interim Town Administrator Gary Palmer, who could be making decisions on problem properties, said “the more latitude the better.”

Hale said the ordinance also was based, as most legal writing is, on the “reasonable person” standard, on the actions a reasonable person would or could make.

“What’s reasonable for me may not be reasonable for somebody else,” Rosseel said.

Hale said he expected the Town Administrator to be able to determine if a person was the exception to the “reasonable person” rule.

“This gives us the latitude to do what makes sense under the circumstances and I think that’s really what I understand this body is wanting us to do,” Hale said.

“To be more specific than this could inadvertently create problems for us,” he added.

The ordinance was unanimously passed on first reading.

If the Town did decide to fix a problem property, it could recover its costs by a court judgment or by asserting a lien on the property, which would be collected like a property tax through the County Assessor’s office.

“There’s always some risk we wouldn’t be able to get the money back,” Hale said.

“There’s just not going to be that many of these situations,” McGill said.

The Town already has in place an ordinance allowing it to take ownership of entirely derelict properties, demolish the building and sell the property.

That ordinance has been used once.

Other ordinances allow the Town to cite property owners to court for overgrown weeds and brush.


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