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.