Are you tired of that neighbor who puts out his trash on the wrong day of the week? Or the unleashed neighborhood dog that leaves calling cards on your front lawn? Or the fellow down the block who refuses to trim his lawn, and decorates his driveway with broken-down junk cars?
County code inspectors in Maryland, who are supposed to enforce the list of local dos and don'ts, have traditionally had little recourse to help you. County code violations are criminal matters, and inspectors rarely press charges against the untidy neighbor, because of the prospect of a drawn-out court procedure and a criminal record for the offender.
Now in Montgomery County, which has a tradition of streets as clean as its government, a council member is proposing to establish civil penalties for violations of the county code. "Decriminalizing all of these minor offenses makes the code much more enforceable," said David L. Scull, who introduced the bill in yesterday's council meeting.
If passed, Scull's bill would decriminalize hundreds of county code violations, both major and minor. From the greasy spoon diner that serves hair in the soup to the litterbug who pitches his beer cans in the backyard pool, violators of the county's massive code would be subject to a citation, similar to a parking ticket. County inspectors enforcing everything from housing codes to health codes would be given new weapons -- a ticket book and a pen.
The bill proposes civil fines ranging from $25 to $250, depending on the category of the violation, for first offenders, and doubles that penalty for repeaters.
Already, incorporated municipalities within the county -- including Rockville and tiny Takoma Park -- have been using civil penalties to enforce their city codes.
Rockville last year issued 1,523 notices, and followed through with tickets in 51 of those cases, according to Paul E. Radauskas, the city's superintendent of licenses and inspections. Rockville sends out one notice, waits about a week, and if the problem is not corrected, the inspectors go out to issue the citation. Most of the fines are $25.
In Takoma Park, code inspectors issued 299 warnings between May 1981 and May of this year, and followed through with 113 citations, said Richard Robbins, the city's public works director. "It's a superb program," he said. The Takoma Park inspectors spend much of their time on trash-related matters, he said, specifically trash put out on the wrong day of the week. One form letter, an official warning, is a prelude to trash-related citations.
"The program has been very effective," Robbins said. "We were sending out 100 letters a week when we first started. Now we're down to 12 a week."