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Sorry to be a nuisance, but …

there are things in and near your home that might be a public nuisance. Know the rules.

You probably don’t spend much time reading the Code of the City of Webster City. Even so, all of it is interesting, and as it constitutes The Law in these parts, well worth knowing, and observing.

Section 32, in particular, concerns itself with nuisances, and the list is long.

An especially illuminating passage captures the essence of the matter: “Whatever is injurious to health, indecent or offensive to the senses, or obstruction to the free use of property so as to essentially interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property” is a nuisance.

Much of the Code is devoted to motor vehicles, including automobiles, motor homes, trailers, motorized bicycles, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles to name the most common. While you may associate many positive aspects with your car(s), they can quickly become unsightly, irksome to your neighbors, and a legal nuisance as they age.

Vehicles no longer in use, immobilized and not properly licensed; vehicles sitting on a surface other than one made for their use, such as a driveway, or vehicles that are clearly abandoned can all be legally classified as nuisances.

And, that’s just vehicles on private property.

An entire set of regulations deal with nuisance vehicles illegally parked on public property, which because their nuisance value is much higher and more impactful to more people must be dealt with much more expeditiously.

An extremely common nuisance violation is the parking of vehicles, however temporarily, on lawns. This can easily occur when parking space at a home is in short supply, and many homeowners erroneously assume they’re free to do it on their own property.

This is definitely not the case.

If, as an example, there’s an abandoned vehicle on your property, it could be removed by the Webster City Police Department, or private towing company, and impounded (towed and stored), pending disposition.

In Webster City that won’t happen, though, until other, preliminary steps have been taken first.

According to Ariel Bertran, community development director for the City of Webster City, “the first contact a resident will typically get is from one of our code enforcement officers.”

Officer Ryan Basinger works on many such code enforcement cases, assisted by Webster City Police Chief Shiloh Mork, or other officers in the department, as required.

Usually, this means an officer will visit the vehicle owner to explain how and why they’re in violation of City Code.

“They do a great job of being proactive,” Bertran said.

“Officer Basinger is very respectful and personable, trying to make the best of what can be a difficult situation for everyone.”

Basinger described the process in an interview with The Daily Freeman Journal.

“When I’m notified of a likely code violation, I first observe the property to assess the situation. If there’s a clear nuisance on the property, I issue a nuisance notice on the spot. This gives the property owner 10 days to comply; three days if we’re dealing with overgrown grass or weeds.”

The city’s standard for properly trimmed lawns or grass is 8 inches or less.

Basinger continued, “If they mow the property promptly, there is no further action. If they fail to mow within three days, it will be mowed for them by one of our local lawn services and they’ll get the bill.”

He said the same scenario is played out each winter when property owners fail to shovel snow and ice from public sidewalks near their property.

“Most people in Webster City are understanding,” Basinger said. “They expect to be approached with good will, and that’s our policy. We’re seeking compliance, not defiance.”

If compliance isn’t forthcoming, Basinger has the authority to issue a municipal court summons. If, before the court date, the property is brought into compliance, the property owner will usually get off by paying court costs.

If, however, the case goes to court, the potential fine for a first offense is $750. A second, and all subsequent offenses, carry a fine of $1,000 plus court costs.

Since he became responsible for code compliance in July 2022, Basinger has dealt with 379 nuisance cases. Fewer than 20 of these have eventually gone to court.

Beyond vehicles, the most common nuisance violations in Webster City involve overgrown grass and weeds; accumulation of junk in yards, especially old appliances; and furniture or scrap metal that hasn’t been recycled or sent to the landfill, according to Bertran.

There are many more types of general nuisances listed in the City Code, including air pollution from smoke or noxious fumes; construction materials left over from a job site; machinery or junk; offensive smells; inflammable materials; water pollution; even Dutch Elm disease (which ultimately results in a dead tree which becomes dangerous, and so, is classified as a nuisance.)

Vacant, unsafe or abandoned buildings are all subject to being named a nuisance. This applies to structures of all kinds, whether residential or commercial.

A special classification in the Code is reserved for properties cited for three or more nuisance violations within a 90-day period. Such properties are a “chronic nuisance” to public health or convenience, and are considered especially serious. These will get top attention from law enforcement.

The Code sets forth remedies for citizens to contest a judgment that their property constitutes a public nuisance. The most common is to request a hearing before the City Council of Webster City, during which it will be worked out whether a nuisance truly exists. Findings of Council in such hearings are final and may not be further appealed or contested.

If a nuisance is found to exist, a schedule will be set for its removal, allowing a “reasonable time” for compliance by the offender.

Failure to remove a nuisance is a simple misdemeanor and subject to a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days. Each violation of the nuisance statutes is a separate offense, and so each violation is subject to the fines or jail time mentioned above.

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