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Borough sees more high-grass violations

June 22, 2011

Bill Ward, of Sutton Street, keeps his grass within the letter of the law, which is to keep grass, weeds and other vegetation cut lower than six inches. (Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — If it seems there are more people who own property in Punxsutawney who aren’t keeping up with mowing the grass this year, members of borough council would agree with you.

Code Enforcement Officer Mary McHenry said there appears to be more high-grass violations than in other years.

McHenry said in the beginning of the lawn mowing season, she was lenient due to the heavy rainfall this spring.

When people would complain about the neighbors’ grass, she would say that she wanted to make sure the person in violation had enough time to cut it, she said.

Whether it was due to the rain or for other reasons, there were a lot of high grass notices sent in, McHenry said, adding that it is difficult to track down who actually owns a property at an empty house.

McHenry said she keeps up with most of the history of the properties that she oversees in the borough.

One of the biggest problems enforcing the high grass ordinance is when a property is for sale, she said. When a property is foreclosed on, it’s difficult to get the former owner to keep the grass mowed when the property is now owned by the bank.

“Until there’s a legal name change on the deed at the courthouse, they are legally responsible to cut the grass at that property,” McHenry said. “I’ve gotten a few that have come back and cut the grass. It used to be that most mortgages were held by a local bank, and there was someone to talk to so the grass could get mowed.”

Now mortgages are written from all over the country, and she might be dealing with Wells Fargo in California, McHenry said. That’s when she begins her telephone search of who actually owns the property.

“I can spend days to determine the owner of a single property, or sometimes the mortgage holder will say it will send somebody out and get an estimate on doing the work, and then maybe by August I’ll get it cut,” she said.

Many people say the borough should just mow the grass so it gets done.
“We don’t have an abundance of our own guys to go around and start doing yard work for everyone,” McHenry said. “Another problem with the borough mowing is we have to file a lien on the property, and if it’s going to be foreclosed on, we’ll never recoup the money for mowing it.”

McHenry said that’s why she does everything she can to make someone cut it instead of filing with the magistrate.

“If I file with the magistrate, basically I’ve stopped enforcement, and now, I have to wait for my hearing, which could be several weeks off,” she said.

McHenry said if she can’t get a hearing scheduled for six weeks, the grass continues to grow anyway.

“If I’m filing against an out-of-state bank or finance company, there’s no point because a representative from the lender won’t show up anyway,” she said. “I end up just spinning my wheels.”

Some of the chronic violators from last year seem to be more cooperative, as some of them are mowing their grass this year, she said.
If found guilty, a property owner can be fined between $25 and $300 plus court costs and is still responsible to cut the grass.

McHenry said property maintenance is another area where there can be a lot of violations involving property maintenance.

In 2008, council adopted a revised property maintenance ordinance, which is more specific about what constitutes a violation.

McHenry said one of the reasons for the change was to include the outdoor placement of furniture, which is designated for indoor use.
This covers old couches and recliners that may be found on some porches in town, McHenry said, adding that includes old washers, dryers and stoves that may be sitting on back porches.

Other code violations include junk vehicles, garbage collection/recycling, overhanging trees and shrubs, yard sales, building permits, swimming pools, house numbers and open burning.

To obtain more information on borough ordinances, go to the Web site at www.generalcode.com online eCode 360-Library Pennsylvania Punxsutawney Borough.

Call McHenry at 938-4480.

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