Back to Back Issues Page
Useful Community Plus
June 27, 2019

In This Issue: Dealing with Neighborhood Nuisances,
Website Updates
Visit us at

Feature Story: Dealing with Neighborhood Nuisances

What is considered to be a nuisance varies enormously from community to community. Sometimes the word nuisance is actually backed up by state and local law, and at other times, it's simply a common figure of speech used in neighborhoods.

This latter common layperson use of the term quickly becomes subjective. In fact, sometimes when you confront the property owners that your neighborhood thinks are creating a nuisance, often you find that these folks don't think they are out of line at all. Or at the very least, you can't get them to admit they are doing anything wrong.

At this point you hope that your city or town has an ordinance that covers the offending condition on the property. Nuisance ordinances as such are mostly a thing of the past, at least when it comes to conditions on the property. Usually cities now are relying on their codes, which typically are based on internationally composed codes that may have some custom local touches.

To find out if the situation that bothers you or your neighborhood association is covered under one of your ordinances, you will need to ask the city or try to look it up online. If you want some background first, you could read our articles on property maintenance codes or an existing building code.

In addition, if the structural condition of a building is poor, your building department may become involved. If you are worried about junky vegetation or tall grass and weeds, your city may have a freestanding ordinance that covers that, or occasionally the zoning ordinance lists requirements. Outdoor storage, including storage of unlicensed vehicles, recreational vehicles, and miscellaneous possessions and machinery, often is discussed in the zoning ordinance, or there may be separate laws addressing these "nuisances" as well.

Outright dumping, such as the mess shown in this e-mail, often is prohibited under public health or stream protection laws and sometimes the zoning ordinance also.

Noise ordinances often are separate from other laws, and sometimes we hear people talk about midnight fireworks and loud parties as "nuisances."

An excessive number of animals, barking dogs, unleashed pets, and the like probably are violations of an animal control ordinance.

Poor vacant lot maintenance may fall under a number of different ordinances.

Just to make matters more complicated, sometimes a local city council will defer to what they regard as sufficient state law to handle some types of sticky situations.

So you see, nuisances can be addressed in many places in your local ordinances. If you find there is nothing in place to allow your town to tackle an obvious eyesore, work within your neighborhood association to request updates and changes.

The One Nuisance Law That Makes Us Crazy

One provision of so-called nuisance laws is extremely unfortunate. We're thinking of people-as-nuisances provisions. In some places if you call the police more than two times, three times, or whatever in a particular time period, you can be evicted from rental housing.

We suppose lawmakers who enact such a provision are well-meaning and want to relocate trouble-makers and criminals out of their towns.

But an unintended consequence is that family members of the mentally ill and victims of domestic violence now can be penalized in a severe way for seeking help when they need it most.

So please, if you live in a city with a nuisance ordinance that exposes vulnerable people to this risk, ask your city council to stop it immediately. We trust that the incidence of these laws is declining, in part due to the excellent attention paid to this issue by the American Civil Liberties Union.

But you the residents can make a difference by asking lawmakers to repeal any such provision.

Let's leave nuisance laws and code provisions in place for property owners who don't meet standards of decency for their properties. But let's not punish people who need help.

We'll be back next month. Bear with us as we adjust our format to meet the requirements of a new e-mail service. We hope to look prettier next month! Enjoy the season.
Back to Back Issues Page