How high is too high?
Last year, it was the unseasonably warm winter. This year, it’s the heavy summer rainfall.
No matter the cause, High Point code enforcement officials always can count on one thing this time of year: A slew of yards and vacant lots where the grass has sprouted over a foot.
Grass and weeds higher than 12 inches are considered a public nuisance under city ordinance. Since March 1, inspectors have flagged 1,101 properties for overgrown violations.
The caseload is down from the same period last year, when 1,175 high-grass violations were reported, driven in part by mild winter weather that lengthened the growing season.
Officials said most property owners cut their grass after they are put on notice, but with lawns getting constantly soaked by near-daily rainfall this summer, it sometimes takes awhile to get them mowed.
“This year, we’ve had a lot more people calling and saying, ‘I tried to cut the grass, but it was too wet or too thick. Can I have another seven days?’” said Katherine Bossi, local codes enforcement supervisor for High Point. “We take that into consideration when we do find violations, to try to work with people a little bit.”
Inspectors cite properties for high grass primarily in response to citizen complaints. Bossi said the city generally fields 10 to 20 of these complaints a day this time of year.
When inspectors find a violation, the city sends the property owner notice by first class and certified mail, as required by state law. Usually, this gets the job done, and the city reinspects the lot to verify that the grass has been cut.
Bossi estimated that the city gets no response to the mailings in 30 to 35 percent of cases. At that point, inspectors move to the next stage of the abatement process: posting a notice of violation at the property for 10 days.
After this, if nothing has been done, instead of imposing fines, the city hires a private contractor to cut the grass and bills the property owner.
The bill gives them 30 days to make payment and, if they don’t, the city places a lien on the property, typically within about 90 days.
It can take longer to resolve cases involving vacant lots or houses, especially those in foreclosure.
Bossi said inspectors check the deeds of foreclosed properties to try to determine who is responsible for maintenance. Sometimes it’s the property owner, but not always.
“There are other foreclosures that have gone back to a lender or mortgage company or bank, and we send them notices,” Bossi said.