After months of trying to contact property owners and tenants to clean up debris at a Dublin Dr. lot, the Cumberland County Health and Safety Standards Board authorized filing suit to enforce a civil fine against the owner.
“You’re not going to be able to go out there and unload the yellow equipment and start pushing stuff around with people operating a business,” County Attorney Philip Burnett said. “Your teeth is going to be in a violation that you have under your resolution that basically amounts to $50 per day.”
Neighbors complained of tires, cars, concrete blocks and other items piling up on the property.
Burnett said the property owner lived in Arkansas and he had a certified mail receipt for the letter of violation sent in March. The owner’s appeal window had closed May 26 without any communication or response.
The county can assess a fine of $50 per day per violation. After 15 days, Burnett said the violation could be as much as $750.
“The way to enforce that is I would file a lawsuit,” Burnett said.
That would be heard in Cumberland County General Sessions Court. The lawsuit requires again serving the property owner notice of the suit. The court could then order the property sold to satisfy the fine.
A notice had also been served on at least one of the property occupants.
“We did that in hopes that — they’re the ones operating whatever is going on — in hopes they would get that cleaned up,” Burnett said.
If the board authorizes a lawsuit, Burnett said he would need proof of the property impacting the health, safety or welfare of the community.
“If I were standing before the judge, I would want to see what those issues are,” Burnett said.
The committee has photographs from when the complaint was first filed. More recent photos show wood stacked, as though for firewood. That would not be a violation, Burnett said. A photo showing an old mattress would be a violation, except it appeared the mattress was in the road right-of-way.
“With what you have written, the teeth you have deals with health, safety and welfare. You have to be able to show insect issues, rodent issues, vermin issues, mosquito issues, tires, water,” Burnett said.
He cautioned anyone taking photographs could not take photos of someone or property where there is an expectation of privacy.
And, if the issues weren’t “obvious,” then there would be a question of how the situation impacted health, safety and welfare, Burnett said.
Board member Tom Isham said county property taxes have not been paid on the property since 2014.
“That’s $2,453 in taxes,” he said. “But that property is not scheduled to go on the next tax sale.”
Burnett said it would be an easier case forward than the civil fine case. It would also allow the property to be returned to the tax rolls.
Board member Joe Koester questioned how the new owner would remove the residents and clean up the parcel. Burnett said the owner could start foreclosure proceeding and have the individuals removed.
Board member Craig Clark said the committee had already determined the property was in violation of health and safety standards.
“It needs to be cleaned up,” he said. “We recognize this is a problem for the neighbors.”
Burnett said he understood the frustration of the neighbors. But the county’s resolution on health and safety standards only allows the committee to address those issues. State law, however, does provide more authority for counties to set property standards, but that was not what Cumberland County adopted.
Isham moved to advance the assessment of civil fines to general sessions court, supported by Clark.
Clark also suggested the county fast-track a tax sale if taxes are not brought up to date.
The motion passed with board member Bobby Rhea voting no. He preferred the tax sale option.
The panel also heard from residents of Grace Hill Dr., who complained of a property with trash, debris, fallen trees and brush strewn around the yard. Neighbors said trash was allowed to sit by the road for several days, with one neighbor saying they had driven over glass due to the trash.
Photos showed boxes piled on the front porch, which neighbors said was a fire hazard.
They were concerned about snakes living among the boxes and possibly harming a child. The property backs up to North Cumberland Elementary School, not far from the playground.
However, as the panel questioned how to proceed, it was discovered only two of the complaining neighbors own property within 150 yards of the home in question. Efforts to reach the neighbor living across the street had been unsuccessful to date, the school system owns the property to the rear and Hwy. 127 forms the side property line.
Burnett suggested neighbors consult restrictions in the property deeds.
“Any property owner can file suit to enforce those restrictions,” Burnett said.
He also said he would consult with the school system’s attorney about possible risks to students.
Property at Springwater Circle has been cleaned up, with a final bill of about $1,000.
The property had been the site of a burned-down trailer. Debris had been piling up for months.
Hyder said she was there as the contractor removed load after load of debris. When it was done, “everything looked so nice,” she said.
Burnett said he will place a lien on the property for the cost of the clean-up. The county can execute the lien and sell the property to recoup its costs.