The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 15, 2013

Lawn laws gain mow-mentum

Justin Dennis

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown area has its fair share of “eyesores,” but not one of them can be cured by an optometrist.

Come spring and summer, homeowners do battle with their lawns and gardens – brush-clearing, weeding and grass-cutting. Few occupants enjoy living on an overgrown and unkempt plot.

But where does that leave condemned homes or those deemed abandoned by boroughs and townships? High grass ordinance enforcement is a “growing” problem that makes a different battle – keeping out-of-town or absentee owners in compliance – spill over into code enforcers’ laps.

“It’s an ongoing issue with all municipalities,” said Mark Walker, zoning and codes officer for Westmont.

Many municipalities deal with high grass violators in the same fashion: Notify owners in writing, give them a window in which to clean up and, if the problem persists, levy fines and citations. Get caught with a wild jungle lawn in Westmont and the fine could be up to $600.

“The problem is if you cite somebody, the magistrate is not inclined to hit someone with a major fine because all they’ll do is appeal it,” Walker said. “It clogs up the court system.”

 In Richland Township, the grass height limit is 10 inches.

After notification, owners have 30 days to get it cut.

Westmont’s height limit is the same, 10 inches, but owners are allotted only 10 days to comply.

“By and large, if the property is occupied and we send them a letter, it gets taken care of,” said Dave Mills, part-time zoning officer for Richland Township. “The only issue we have is with absentee landlords, or if the property is vacant.”

West Hills police Chief Andrew Havas is in charge of keeping grass ordinances enforced in Westmont.

He said he doesn’t know of many other municipalities that rely on police to keep an eye out, but they’ve been doing it that way since he joined the force 43 years ago. He said there are at least 30 properties they cruise by during the sunny months.

“It’s a lot of work. You have to continually check these locations out all summer,” Havas said.

“You get a lot of rain and before you know it, you’ve got a foot of grass.

“I agree it’s a problem, but we don’t overlook it.”