You say you live in Alexandria, your front porch is falling down, the weeds have grown so high you can't see the abandoned car in the front yard or find your mailbox?
Beware. The Alexandria Public Safety Department is out to get you in compliance with the city's building, housing and fire codes. Called Proactive Alexandria Code Enforcement (PACE), the city crackdown is descended from project CAN (Compliance in Alexandria North), which was directed at the Arlandria area earlier this year.
PACE inspection teams are currently working an area in the south part of the city bounded by South Jordan Street, Telegraph Road, Duke Street and the Fairfax County line.
Teams check every property from the outside. "We're looking for everything," said project director Stephen Taylor, "derelict vehicles, trash, weeds, rodents, stray animals, disrepair, improper house numbers . . . . " Inspectors are finding fewer structural problems with buildings there than in Arlandria, Taylor said.
At their present location PACE teams so far have inspected 757 commercial and residential properties and cited or referred to other departments 421 violations. Most of the citations or referrals were for sanitation problems such as trash improperly stored or scattered around yards and scattered debris or lumber.
Derelict vehicles," a term that encompasses abandoned cars and cars without city stickers, claimed the next largest number of citations and referrals.
Inspectors can cite three kinds of violations in the field: housing code, building code or fire codes. Any other violations, such as weeds over one foot tall or derelict autos, are referred to the appropriate city department. Inspectors can track their referrals to see if action has been taken.
If a property is cited for a code violation, or referred to another department, the owner of the property has 30 days to correct the problem. If the problem remains uncorrected, the city can issue a show cause letter requiring the property owner to explain why the property still does not comply with city codes.
According to Taylor, the city will "try to work things out" before taking legal action against a property owner. The CAN project produced a 98 percent compliance rate by the end of the inspections, Taylor said, with only one case referred to the commonwealth attorney. The owner of the property in that case has since agreed to make the necessary repairs.
Taylor said the city hopes to expand the PACE program so that by next spring remaining parts of the city will be set up for inspections. The winter will be devoted to training new teams of firefighters to participate in the program.
During the first few weeks they make inspections, the firefighters are accompanied by building, fire and housing inspectors. After that period the firefighters do the inspections on their own, with the inspectors debriefing them at the end of the day.
PACE costs the city no extra tax dollars, Taylor said. The firefighters making the inspections are on the city payroll now, and are not working extra hours or drawing extra pay for PACE duty. They do the inspections in between fire calls.
Last week Taylor met with members of the Seminary West Civic Association to explain what the program does. Meetings such as this one "help the program go a little easier," he said, and "creates understanding by making people aware" of what will be happening.