With warm weather here, residents reminded of code violations
PUNXSUTAWNEY — It's that time of year to dust off the lawnmowers and cut the grass — and property owners who don't will be hearing from Punxsutawney code enforcement officer Mary McHenry.
"The lawn mowing season began a little bit earlier than last year with the warm weather back in March, which has caused grass mowing violations to start early,” McHenry said.
Many people have mowed their grass a couple of times already, which causes those who haven't to stick out.
She said some of the reasons for grass not being mowed include rental property owners who live outside the borough or bank foreclosure on a property.
"I began sending out notices a couple of weeks ago, giving people time to get their mowers out and running," McHenry said, adding that property owners are required by ordinance to keep grass, weeds and other vegetation cut lower than six inches.
When violations occur, a property owner will receive a high grass violation notice from the code enforcement office. McHenry said the notice makes the property owner aware that there is a violation, and it must be corrected within five days.
If the violation is not corrected, she said, charges can be filed with the district magistrate.
If found guilty, the property owner may be fined between $25 to $300, plus court costs.
Other code violations:
• Junk Vehicles — McHenry said a vehicle is considered to be junk when it's not inspected, registered and legally operable on the road.
"Borough ordinance states that all vehicles on properties in the borough must have a current inspection sticker and current license," she said. "A junk vehicle violation notice is sent to the owner of any property where a junk vehicle is found. The owner is given 30 days to comply, with charges being filed with the district magistrate if the violation still exists after 30 days of the first notice expiring."
If the owner is found guilty at the magistrate level, he or she can be fined up to $300 or sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail.
McHenry said many junk vehicle owners say they are fixing the vehicle up, but that often never happens.
• Property Maintenance — In 2008, borough council adopted a revised property maintenance ordinance, which is more specific about what constitutes a violation, McHenry said, adding that one of the more popular violations is the outside placement of furniture designed for inside use.
"The resident has moved that comfy living room chair onto the porch," she said.
McHenry said this ordinance covers old couches and recliners that are found on some porches in town.
Another common violation is the outside placement of an old washer, dryer or stove, she said.
"In the revised ordinance, the definition of rubbish now covers those items," McHenry said.
She said there are many residents who have a pile of old boards, bricks and other miscellaneous building materials in their backyard.
"Those items should be piled in one area and covered," McHenry said.
If found guilty at the magistrate level for a property maintenance violation, a person could be fined up to $1,000 and/or up to 30 days in jail.
"I try to be lenient with people, because our goal with all of this stuff is not to take anybody to the magistrate," McHenry said. "We don't want to have anyone pay a fine; we just want to see the violation corrected."
Often neighbors or other property owners do as well, as McHenry said she receives notice from the public about unkempt properties.
• Garbage Collection/Recycling — All residents of the borough are required to have the services of a licensed refuse collector. The borough has four licensed haulers, including Veolia, Williams, Hugill and Yeager.
McHenry said one problem is when someone's service is shut off by the hauler for non-payment.
"Once I receive information on their garbage not being picked up, I'll send them a letter reminding them of the ordinance that garbage pickup is required," McHenry said.
After receiving her letter, the violator will either pay his or her bill or go to another collector, she said.
McHenry said garbage can be placed outside only the evening prior to one's collection date, unless he or she has plastic or metal garbage cans with tight-fitting lids.
"Taking your garbage and combining it with a neighbor, friend (or) relative, or placing it in a random dumpster around town or taking it to work with you and placing it in your employer's dumpster is against the law and is considered theft of services," she said.
Residents are also required to comply with the recycling ordinance, which mandates that they recycle aluminum; bi-metal, clear glass and colored glass containers; and No. 1 and 2 two plastic containers without lids, McHenry said, adding that commercial establishments must recycle high-grade office paper and corrugated paper.
She said garbage haulers are required to supply customers with recycling bins.
• Overhanging Trees and Shrubs — Property owners must make sure that there is a minimum clearance of 85 inches between the sidewalk surface and any overhanging trees or shrubs. In addition, all tree limbs, shrubs and branches must not protrude out into the sidewalk area more than four inches.
"We're not out there measuring, but you can tell just by looking at a branch if it is low enough that it will hit someone," McHenry said.
Violators can be fined up to $300 and sentenced to no more than 30 days in jail if found guilty at the magistrate level.
"When one of my informants alerts me to a possible violation, I first go out and check for myself before sending out a notice of the alleged violation," McHenry said.
• Yard/Garage Sales — McHenry said she has the people in town notified pretty well in regard to garage sale permits.
"Permits are required for all yard, garage, porch, estate and moving sales conducted for a residential property in the borough," she said. "The violators are people who are new to the area and aren't aware of the ordinance. I'll be driving down a street, and I'll see fluorescent pink (yard sale) signs everywhere, and I take it that they didn't know."
McHenry said the cost for the permit is $5, and residents are permitted to have no more than three sales per calendar year for five consecutive days.
However, placing signs on the property where the sale is being held is fine, McHenry said, adding that if one wishes to place signs on the corner, at the end of one's street or anywhere else, he or she must first obtain written permission from other property owners stating they allow such signs on their property.
McHenry said signs are not permitted on telephone poles, stop signs, street signs, traffic signs or on borough or state property.
Fines at the magistrate level are between $50 and $300.
• Building Permits — The borough requires building permits for all new construction, in addition to other work, such as a roof replacement, installation of siding and replacement windows, McHenry said.
She said in keeping with Pennsylvania's Uniform Construction Code (UCC), there are times when a second permit from the inspection agency — which is currently Bureau Veritas and will change to Pennsafe at the end of June — is required.
McHenry said a permit is required from the inspection agency for replacing a deck/porch more than 30 inches from the ground, or for building or replacing an entire roof.
"Before planning any construction jobs, it is best to contact the code officer to discuss the permit requirements," she said. "In addition, there are setback requirements which must be followed, and it is best to find that information out when you are still in the planning stages, rather than when you have the materials on site and are ready to begin construction."
• Swimming Pools — McHenry said she can tell when the weather is getting nice, because of all the swimming pools that pop up throughout the borough.
"I see them, and then I have to send the resident a letter about the requirements, which are extensive," she said.
McHenry said permits are required for the placement of all swimming pools containing at least 24 inches of water.
The borough has specific zoning requirements that regulate where a pool may be placed on a property, she said.
Swimming pools are not permitted in front yards, and there are side and rear setback requirements which vary, depending on how a specific property is zoned, McHenry said, adding that the borough swimming pool permit is $20 per year.
In addition, the state requires residents to also obtain a second permit from the borough's inspection agency, which enforces the UCC requirements implemented by the state, to cover the inspection of the electrical supply to the pump for the pool.
"The new owners of swimming pools that receive my letter with the rules and costs that are applied, they say, ‘It's going to cost me more to install the pool than I paid for (it),'" McHenry said.
• House Numbers — The borough passed an ordinance in 2009 stating that all industrial properties must display the Jefferson County street number or address in a conspicuous and prominent place, which shall be visible from the street directly in front of the property.
McHenry said notices are sent out to property owners when the borough becomes aware property is not properly numbered.
This is beneficial in instances where police, ambulance or fire personnel are called for assistance, she said.
Violators can be fined between $25 and $300 and sentenced to no more than 30 days in jail.
• Open Burning — McHenry wants to remind borough residents that open burning is prohibited in the borough.
“Burning is for cooking purposes only," she said. "This would mean a small fire meant for cooking hot dogs and marshmallows."
Violations can range from $100 to $2,500 and up to 90 days in jail.
To obtain information on borough ordinances, visit www.generalcode.com online eCode 360-Library Pennsylvania Punxsutawney Borough.
For more information, call McHenry at (814) 938-4489, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.