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Category: Code Enforcement Page 1 of 2

City May Impose Higher Taxes to Vacant, Blighted Properties

Vacant and blighted properties can threaten public safety and are a public nuisance.

These properties include abandoned buildings; unused lots that attract trash and debris; under-leased shopping strip/plaza commercial properties; neglected industrial properties with environmental contamination; deteriorating single-family homes/apartments with significant housing code violations, and vacant housing for long periods.

These properties can be residential, commercial or industrial, and they create a drain on City resources in a variety of ways:

  • Reduce city tax revenues – lower value generates less through delinquency and can spread lower properties to the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Low occupancy rates can be used for property assessment appeals.
  • Added costs of enforcement, patrol, and maintenance in some cases.

Many municipalities use higher property tax rates on these properties to incentivize and encourage property owners to properly maintain and/or maintain occupancy rates at a set standard.

Two local examples are the City of Mount Rainier in Prince George’s County and Washington, DC.

College Park has discussed this topic in the past – in 2015. That discussion was about defining and identifying vacant/blighted properties and did not include imposing a special property tax rate. Several questions and legal issues would need to be addressed if the City Council desires staff to investigate further implementing a higher tax rate on vacant and/or blighted property.

At next week’s meeting, the Council will discuss the topic and direct staff to investigate further implementing a higher tax rate on vacant and/or blighted properties or take no further action.

City May Post No Solicitor Signs to Stop Illegal Solicitations

Residents have raised concerns about door-to-door solicitors who have not obtained the required County and City solicitor’s licenses. Some solicitors have been reported to be aggressive, possibly have misrepresented themselves, and have requested resident’s private information such as monthly power bills.

When a complaint is made to City staff, attempts are made to identify the solicitors and the companies they claim to represent. City contracted Police Officers are dispatched to confront solicitors and identify if they are legitimate, or not. If they are legitimate but do not have licenses, they are sent on their way. Recently Police were able to identify solicitors without licenses, working for an out of state power company. A municipal
infraction was issued to the company, and City regulations were explained to their corporate staff. The $100 fine was paid.

Based on residents’ requests, Council Members, including me have requested consideration of installing street signs warning of solicitation laws. Public Works staff have developed proposed wording and design of a sign. Strategic locations have been suggested for city-wide installation, without adding too much to the number of signs throughout City neighborhoods.

Staff has reminded residents at police-community meetings that they do not have to open their doors to strangers and should not do so after dark. Residents should always report suspicious behavior to 9-1-1 immediately, so that Police may identify solicitors and determine if they are legitimate and have the required licenses.

At this week’s Council meeting, the City Council will discuss the value of installing solicitation related signs, sign wording, and sign locations and, to direct staff action following their decisions.

[City of College Park]

More Information about the New Nuisance Law

Last week, the City issued a statement explaining the nuisance ordinance that the City Council recently approved. Please see the statement below:

For many years, the Mayor and Council, City staff, Police, the County, student groups, and landlords have tried to prevent—with limited success—disruptive noise and other negative impacts caused by large social gatherings in our neighborhoods. The Mayor and Council recently amended the City Code to better address specific problem behaviors that may occur at unruly social gatherings.

The purpose of the Unruly Social Gatherings Ordinance (in Chapter 141, Nuisances) is to improve the quality of life and safety for residents; it does not prohibit gatherings. The Ordinance makes it a Municipal Infraction (civil citation) when one or more of the following conditions exist at a gathering of eight or more people:
• underage or excessive drinking, public drunkenness, illegal substance use or health and safety violations• attendees spill over onto the street or a neighbor’s property
• the noise level is above Noise Code limits
• attendees are vandalizing, urinating, defecating, or littering
• fights or other disturbances of the peace
• the gathering creates an excessive amount of traffic that is significantly above and beyond the normal amount of pedestrian or vehicle traffic
• other conduct which constitutes a threat to the public safety, quiet enjoyment of residential or other private property, or the general welfare.

A violation of the Unruly Social Gatherings Ordinance is subject to an immediate municipal infraction and $500 fine of the responsible party, with a warning given on first offense to property owners (if a rental property). Subsequent violations of the ordinance within 24 months of the prior violation will result in a $1,000 fine of the responsible party and a $500 fine of the property owner. The occupancy permit for the property may also be revoked for three or more violations within a 24-month period.

The Council also amended the City’s Noise Code to extend the lower nighttime noise limit of 55 decibels from 7:00 a.m. (previously) to 8:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays. Additionally, a list of specifically exempted sources of noise has been added to the Code. Changes to the Noise and Nuisance Codes went into effect on October 15, 2019. However, a grace period for issuing municipal infractions and fines for Nuisance Code violations is in effect until January 1, 2020.

Violations and complaints of potential Nuisance Code violations will be documented by a notice sent to residents and property owners. Violations of the Noise Code will continue to be addressed per the current practice, which includes the issuance of municipal infractions and fines for documented violations. When appropriate, referrals to the University of Maryland Office of Student Conduct will be made.

To read the complete City Noise and Nuisance Codes (Chapters 110, 138, and 141 of the City Code), you may access the City Code online at https://ecode360.com/CO0032. Please contact the Department of Public Services at 240-487-3570 or publicservices@collegeparkmd.gov if you have any questions about these or other City codes

City Code Reminders

Here are two helpful reminders about City Code regulations for grass and solicitation. For any questions, or to contact the City’s Code Enforcement Division, please visit www.collegeparkmd.gov/dps.

Grass
With spring showers comes grass… and lots of it! Make sure to keep grass and weeds trimmed no higher than 12 inches. Ornamental grasses are exempt from this regulation.

 

 

 

Door-to-Door Solicitation
Door to door solicitors in the City are required to have and display (upon request) County and City permits. They also should have photo identification.
Remember, you don’t have to open your door to any stranger. There are both legitimate and scam solicitors.
Report any suspicious people or activities immediately to 9-1-1.

[ City of College Park]

City Mulls Changing Inspection Frequencies of Rental Properties in College Park

At tonight’s Council meeting, the City  Council will discuss reducing the frequency of interior inspections on some rental units in the City.

Since 1965 the City has been conducting annual interior inspections of all residential rental units and commercial properties as part of the occupancy permit process required by the City Code (Chapter 144-6-A).With the number of new properties in the City, it is difficult for code enforcement to perform the required interior inspections and also enforce exterior property maintenance throughout the City.

Staff find the most hazards and code violations in single-family home rentals. Staff’s opinion is that single-family homes, townhouses, individually owned condominium units and small apartment rental properties pose the greatest risk to health and safety.

As of April 2017, there are 1,336 permitted single-family, individually owned condominium, and townhouse residential units in the city. There are 3,875, apartment units, 1,057 hotel rooms, and 447 commercial properties with permits.Additionally, there are 15 fraternity and sorority houses and 10 rooming houses.

Staff is suggesting going to biennial inspections of the living spaces at “modern” apartment structures and hotels and continuing annual inspections of common public spaces at these locations, and annual review of their third-party inspection of sprinkler systems, fire and smoke alarms, elevators and other system maintenance items. For elevator maintenance and repair services, it is advisable to consider professionals like https://lift-maintenance-repair.co.uk/. Staff is recommending continuing annual interior inspections of single-family homes, townhouses, individually owned condominium units and small apartment rental properties.

Staff estimates that up to 450 hours could be reallocated from an interior to exterior inspections by reducing the inspection frequency of modern apartment structures and hotels.

Taking Code Enforcement Beyond Enforcement

Recently I was discussing how we can make City’s code Enforcement program more efficient and customer focused.

Our Code officers do fairly a good job in enforcing code at the houses and businesses within the City. These code include issues related to building code, occupancy, permits, litters and more.

That said many, including me, think that there is room for improvement within this program. Here are some ideas.

  • Re-branding the title “Code Enforcement Officer”. How about a friendlier name? “Quality Improvement Officer” or even simply “Public Service Officer”?
  • Customized staff training. Currently, our officers get training on general customer service. Our officers need a customer service training, but only related to what they do – serving our residents.
  • Reward and Recognition program: Let’s find ways to reward our residents for the better maintenance of their properties. Let’s not give them the impression that the City is after punishing them through citations.

I am sure there are more ideas you can think of. If you have more, please let me know. Thank you!

Home Check List – A Quick Guide to Keep Your Home Safe, Clean and in Good Condition..

I recently found this excellent home checklist that talks about how to do a quick check on our homes and make them safe, clean and in good condition. The guide was originally produced by the City of Greenbelt (so all kudos go to them), but almost all of them are common sense items that we should be checking on a regular basis. College Park may incorporate some of these items in its own promotional materials that it often shares with residents.

Home Checklist

City’s Code and Parking Enforcement Staff Salaries and Rates

Recently, a resident asked about salaries / rates of our code and parking enforcement officers. I thought, some of you may find this information helpful as well.

ANNUAL SALARIES RANGE
Parking Enforcement Officers :
PEO I Grade-6 $ 33,221 – $ 57,090
PEO II Grade-7 $ 34,606 – $ 59,471

Code Enforcement Officers:
CEO I Grade-8 $ 35,990 – $ 61,850
CEO II Grade-10 $ 38,761 – $ 66,611
CEO III Grade-12 $ 41,531 – 71,370

HOURLY SALARY RANGE
Parking Enforcement Officers:
PEO I G-6 $ 15.97 – $ 27.44
PEO II G-7 $ 16.63 – $ 28.59

PEO NIGHT SHIFT DIFFERENTIAL OF $1.00/hour after 5 p.m.

Code Enforcement Officers:
CEO I G-8 $ 17.30 – $ 29.73
CEO II G-10 $ 18.63 –$ 32.02
CEO III G-12 $ 29.96 –$ 34.31

CEO NIGHT SHIFT DIFFERENTIAL OF $1.00/hour after 6 p.m.

Staff are routinely scheduled to work on Saturdays (PEO & CEO ) , Sundays ( CEO), and nights ( PEO Monday-Saturday, CEO Thursday –Saturday. They are paid at their regular Grade and Merit Step for a normal 40 hour work week and receive applicable Night Shift Differential. Staff are normally scheduled to cover these hours and shifts as part of their regular 40 hour work week. When it is necessary to schedule staff over 40 hours/week to cover shifts vacant due to leave, sickness, or special events they are paid at an overtime rate that is 1.5 times their base hourly rate.

Yard Sale – Check Before You Start One!

Yard sale - Check before you start one

Recently, a few residents reported to me about a yard sale on an area near Duval field by Rhode Island Avenue. I was told that they have been there for at least the past 6 Saturdays and a few times on Sunday.

I took the matter to our City staff, who alerted code enforcement and asked them to investigate and enforce regulations. Accordingly, they went to the area last Saturday and stopped the sale.

This law only applies to property that is on City’s or County’s right of way. You do not need a permit from the City to start a yard sale on your private property or sell your items to a thrift store. People do this all the time! It’s a tradition.

Per state law, without a trader’s license, residents may have no more than 1 yard sale per year, lasting no more than 14 consecutive days, to sell their personal items on their private property.

The Duval Field Yard sale raised another question. Does it need a complaint from resident to stop this kind of yard sale? The short answer is no. It does not take a complaint for them to take enforcement action,but it does help to have any potential violation locations reported directly to code enforcement by residents either by phone call to 240.487.3570, or email, or by visiting the new “College Park Central” on our web site.

Graffiti on Lackawanna – A New Annoyance?

A new nuisance has struck Lackwanna Street near the Greenbelt Metro station. Graffiti has  popped up several places along the street between Narragansett and Witchita Avenue.

It may not be very first time such a nuisance happened, but I haven’t seen this in the past several years. From what we know, it appears that the graffiti was not painted by organized gang members. Let’s hope that is the case.

That said, if you know or seen any one doing this harm, please let me know. Police can help. Per the City code, it’s illegal to do this. Here is what the code says:

It shall be unlawful for any person to place, in any manner, graffiti, as defined in § 132-2 of Chapter 132, Litter and Graffiti, upon any property, whether real or personal, public or private. [Added 10-28-1997 by Ord. No. 97-O-17]

I’ve asked our Public Works to take care of this. However, if you have seen any such graffiti or stickers in any other part of the district, please let me know.

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