A standard of care for all in Auburn

In Montgomery County, home to some of the toniest neighborhoods in suburban Washington, D.C., there is a strict property maintenance code.

If, for example, a homeowner embarks on an exterior renovation project, such as an addition, “the owner must complete each exterior surface, including windows, wall siding, and roof within one year after the building permit was first issued, or within one year after construction started if no building permit was required.”

That’s a lot of pressure for do-it-yourselfers.

In historic Franklin, Tenn., “no vehicle should be parked on the front yard/lawn unless the vehicle is parked on an approved driveway or parking pad,” and grass, weeds and annuals may not grow in excess of 12 inches or the homeowner risks penalty.

So, homeowners there need to prune their 24-inch Bachelor’s Buttons — possibly before they even bloom.

In York, Pa., the municipal property maintenance code requires that all gates on private properties must be “self-closing and self-latching,” such that the gate will “positively close and latch when released from a still position of six inches from the gatepost.”

That’s precision, so any homeowner who installs a gatepost better be handy with a level.

And, closer to home, in Wethersfield, Conn., known as “Ye Most Ancient Towne” in Connecticut, “all useful, wanted material, including equipment and appliances, stored out-of-doors shall be stored in an orderly fashion in the rear yard.”

Not the side yard.

Or the dooryard.

The rear yard.

And, it must be stored in a manner that doesn’t offend the neighbors.

Working farms are exempt from the code, which must be a relief to the farmers.

We’re telling you all of this because Auburn — yes, Auburn — has begun a conversation about whether there is a need for a property maintenance code to contain blight.

Before anyone overreacts, Auburn residents and officials have something to guide this process that others did not: basic Maine common sense.

In an email distributed to Auburn residents who receive such municipal notices, City Planner Eric Cousens explained the early exploration of a maintenance code is in response to property owners worried that their property values decrease when neighboring owners don’t do basic home maintenance, like painting and mowing. In today’s real estate market, that’s a real concern involving real dollars.

Cousens acknowledges that the economy has made it difficult for some people to afford basic maintenance, but the city has a duty to respond to complaints.

Auburn has talked about a property maintenance code before. According to Cousens, the city established a Property Enhancement Committee in 1998 and discussed setting standards until 2002, when the idea was abandoned.

Now, while Auburn has standards to deal with debris, safety hazards and removal of unregistered vehicles, it doesn’t have, as Cousens pointed out, “standards to require mowing of lawns and weeds in gardens or formerly landscaped areas, flaking paint on siding or trim, cracked windows,” or any ordinance that would authorize the city to take care of these maintenance issues and bill property owners for the work.

As part of its discussion, Auburn will be talking about developing a community standard, a standard that — in Wethersfield — is defined as the “judgment by a reasonable member of the community.”

And who judges who is reasonable?

The community does, which is why it’s so important for folks in Auburn to get involved in this discussion so councilors have solid direction.

There are a lot of good things to say about property maintenance codes, such as setting standards for fire safety, sanitation and pest control, but there’s a lot to be suspicious about, such as who determines how much peeling paint is too much peeling paint or whether your fence is decayed or merely aged.

If Auburn residents want a say in establishing a shared community standard, they must speak up. Or, risk the very real possibility that — like the good folks in Montgomery County — your neighbors get to decide what is an “acceptable” container to store your household trash.

The City Council is scheduled to start discussions on community standards at their regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10, at Auburn Hall. In the meantime, if you want a say in setting that standard, talk to the survey monkey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6VQR9PX


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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MARK GRAVEL's picture

Nanny, Nanny, Nanny, get you

Nanny, Nanny, Nanny, get you citation here.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

you -> your

you -> your

JOANNE MOORE's picture

What do I think of this story?

A lot of lawyers are going to be busy enriching the law firms they work for.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

The definitions will start to blur.......

Good idea, bad approach. I strongly feel that standards need to be in place, however, everyone's idea of neat and tidy, long or short, front yard or door yard are going to be different. Some people let this sort of power go strait to their head.
It starts innocent enough, You put strait forward, precise standards in place. It works well for a while, then you start getting new blood in the drivers seat, that's when the fun begins. I call it the "Busybody" syndrome. New people come in and start implementing personal opinions and preferences. Before you know it, the little old lady next door's grandson is in your front yard measuring the height of your "crab apple" tree for conformance. I have seen them ban pick up trucks from view, flags attached to buildings you name it. What started out as strait forward and precise, ends up so over burdened, no one knows what acceptable or not. You will really start having problems if the neighborhood "Busybody" doesn't like you for some reason. You'll be written up for checking your e-mail before noon. Don't laugh, I've seen this behavior in MA and NY, just mention a "neighborhood association", and I'm selling the house. I say let old fashion common sense rule the day, it creates less enemies.......

Norman Mitchell's picture

The town reserved the right to perform the services for them and

The town is going to come on my land and seal my property then send me a bill for taking it I dont think so ! I pay my taxes ! see you in court !

Norman Mitchell's picture


This is Maine not those other places listed we dont need this kind of dictatorship ! This will hurt the poor the old and the free will of people! Town government, in fact all government should represent all ,not just a few and not be a burdensome life controlling entity, we have a constitution perhaps some in government should read it ! Enforce the laws the town already has dont keep writing new ones a person should be able to park where they choose, offend your neighbor thats kind of vague a person could be offended by anything a matter of opinion in a Law ! whose opinion ? What about wild lands weeds? organic gardening will tell you not to pull weeds after plants are so big to attract good insects and other wildlife for natural insect control ! Maybe I like my lawn long and not short maybe thats my opinion ! Biggest problem in Maine no more natives in Maine those who come up with these ideas should got back where they came from ! Why did you come to my state when you try to make it like were you came from isn't that why you left you didn't like it ? People should have a right to do what they please on their own land unless they are polluting others property or present a health risk to others. Its call land ownership not town dictatorship ! If you dont like it dont look ! also if there is a problem in the city a new law will not fix it ex post facto law is unconstitutional ! If you want to clean something up stop the destruction of our state by useless wind farms !

Robert McQueeney's picture

Look at Woodstock, Maine

Woodstock recently embarked upon a campaign of having folks clean up their yards and remove debris. We are talking about bona fide junk here. These junk piles are also nesting places for rodents and vermin. All land owners with unsightly junk piles were told to clean it up in official letters.

The town transfer station accepts this stuff for free, with a residence sticker (Although it is requested that larger junk piles should have a dumpster brought in. All it requires is a little elbow grease from the land owners. The town reserved the right to perform the services for them and attach the bill to their tax bill. Many lots have been cleared of debris and places do look so much better, increasing property values, not only for them, but for their neighbors. Make no mistake, this affects more than just the landowner with junk strewn about.

I assisted one landowner in this, all told it took about 40 hours combined, we all worked up a good sweat, and when finished, we had something to be proud of.

Steve  Dosh's picture

A standard of care for all in Auburn

all 12.11.27 20:00
You might be a sledneck if people knock on your door thinking you are having a yard sale •
This is well reasoned and important topic . We lived in Montgomery County MD once , Montgomery Villiage to be exact and still have many friends there . It is what is known as a covented community . No commercial trucks or RVs are allowed either . One must park them on a certain short section of road in the villiage . It's all near Gaithersburg MD home of NIST.gov IBM ®.com CIA ® FBI ® the HQ of Kaiser Permanente Health ® and others and right off of a 12 lane highway out of DC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montgomery_Village,_Maryland
This particular housing trend first started in MD with another covenented commutiy we also lived in near Annaopils called Cape St. Claire , first incorporated as the 1st covenanted commuity in 1 9 5 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_St._Claire,_Maryland
We liked both towns and enjoyed our neighbors , the local post office , the in town malls , water sports , clubs and just about everything else about them . We live in a simllar , non - gated community here in Hawai'ii right now also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leilani_Estates
Each of these communites started off with about 2,000 lots of varying sizes and have grown , some to the maximum size allowed . Generally they won't let you build on >1/4 acre . Rent ? Sure if you can afford to rent a house > 1,20 sq ft. Businesses ? Depends .. Of course , the problem is enforcement
There are no private police forces in these places except in Sanford , FL , notably , where they shoot kids walking around with Pepsi ® and Resse's Peanut butter cups ® 
Enforcement consists of having you dismantle stuff or legal condemnation and confiscation of your property in the case of non payment of your yearly dues . Barking dogs ? Everything's in the covenants , folks , including size of dwelling , color , shrubbery , height and whether you must hook up to county water or can / can not have a well . Are your roads private or county ( read: State ) owned and maintained ?
Sure , laws can not be broken but rules , regulations , codes , promulgations , covenants , common practices , suggestions , and the like are routinely bent and broken , sometimes even unintentionally
Then there's the grandfather clauses
Best of luck with the City of Auburn
h t h , been there , done that , can remember it • /s, Santa Steve *<;-Q~


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