Guttenberg addresses "nuisance” properties

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By Shelia Tomkins

Being a property owner comes with both rights and responsibilities. When one person's use of their property interferes with their neighbors' enjoyment, health or safety, nuisance laws can be called into effect to deal with problems.

In legal terms, a nuisance is an activity or physical condition that results in annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort, or injury to another person or to the public. 

The City of Gutttenberg has ordinances that define nuisances and the procedures to address them."A property is determined to be a  nuisance if it meets the standards in our nuisance ordinance," said City Manager Denise Schneider. She said the city has approximately 10 properties currently identified as possible nuisances.

Properties that create obstructed views on streets and private property, create cluttered and otherwise unsightly areas, serve as a habitat for vermin, decrease adjoining landowners’ and occupants’ enjoyment of their property and neighborhood or otherwise adversely affect property values and neighborhoods can be determined to be a nuisance, according to the City Manager.

Nuisances can run the gamut from buildings deemed to be dangerous, to weeds, brush, offensive smells, blocking public ways, obstructive signs, diseased or damaged trees, general junk and junk vehicles.

A "dangerous" building, according to city code, is one that is found to be structurally unsafe, a fire hazard or otherwise dangerous to safety or health for reasons of poor maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence or abandonment. 

A junk or damaged vehicle is defined as one that might have broken glass, broken or missing parts, is inoperable, is in defective condition or that has become a habitat for vermin or insects. 

General junk includes old metal, discarded rope, rags, batteries, paper, trash, rubber, debris, old appliances, etc.

The first step the city takes in dealing with a nuisance property is sending a courtesy notice to the owner. "If they do not respond, an official abatement notice is sent. Both are sent via mail," said the City Manager.

The notice describes the nuisance, states what action needs to be taken and gives a reasonable time frame to remedy the problem. Response to city notices has been varied in the past. "Some take action or call with a plan, and some just ignore the notice. Most people are pretty good about it," said the City Manager. 

If the nuisance is not taken care of as directed, the city will abate the nuisance and assess the costs to the property owner. A person ordered to abate a nuisance can ask for a hearing with the city council about the matter. 

City Manager Schneider notes that there are state and federal funds available to help deal with substandard buildings such as the housing programs at Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and help from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for government entities dealing with derelict buildings. 

Enforcement of the city's nuisance code complements the goal of community beautification, especially the efforts recently spearheaded by the Community Vitality Committee, noted the City Manager. 

A complete copy of the city's code of ordinance can be found on the website: www.cityofguttenbergia.gov by clicking on the drop-down menu under "Government."

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