Has the lawn next door ever gotten so high that it looked ready for harvest?
Does your neighbor let his swimming pool fill up with so much gunk that it begins to resemble the Okefenokee Swamp?
Is the paint on the great American homes on your block peeling like a bad sunburn?
Did you ever say to yourself, "There ought to be a law against that kind of stuff?"
In Bolingbrook, there is.
Fail to fix the window or screen broken during a spring storm, and it could cost you $10 - maybe $30 if you are stubbornly lazy. Let the weeds grow unchecked, and be prepared to fork over $25 or $35 as a penalty. Neglect to scrape off that blistering coat of paint and replace it with a new one, and you could pay a $40 fine.
Officials in this sprawling bedroom community, 30 miles southwest of Chicago, have launched their town of 36,000 people on a spring cleaning binge by cracking down on illegal dirt, grime and unsightly messes.
Armed with a heretofore lightly enforced clean-housing ordinance, inspectors and police have been blitzing the neighborhoods, looking for offenses such as broken windows, weeds, junk piles, peeling paint, fallen television antennas, unmended fences and pools filled with stagnant water.
If an officer spies one of those eyesores, he writes a ticket and hands it or sends it by registered mail to the homeowner, who then has a few days to clean up. For example, the ordinance grants a homeowner a four-day grace period from the time he is ticketed to rid his lawn of noxious weeds. After that, he must pay a $25 fine. Second offenders pay $35.
"We don't want the community sterile looking," explained Marianne Kozlik, the village ordinance supervisor. "But it's the responsiblity of a village government to protect the investments of the people who live here. These messes are health problems, they are hazards, they bring property values down and help deteriorate neighborhoods."
Although the ordinance has been on the books since 1976, officials had rarely handed out tickets unless they received complaints from a sloppy homeowner's neighbors. But, beginning this spring, officials began sending out agents to hunt violations.
Since the second week in May at least 250 tickets have been written, Kozlik said. Fines estimated at about $600 have been collected, but 75 percent of the ticket recipients cleaned up the offenses before they had to pay, she said. She added that anyone who gets a ticket is entitled to a day in court, but no case has gone that far.
Once the big push began, the buzz of lawnmowers filled the air on weekends. Paint sales boomed. Hardly a plastic garbage bag has been set out for the trash collector without a twist tie on top.
Officials of more than 50 cities from California to Florida have called, asking for information on the ordinance. In addition, local residents continue to flood the office with complaints about neighbors or excuses about why they have not been able to comply with the ordinance.
The ordinance was not enforced at first because it was feared that some residents could not afford the repairs needed to comply, but a homeowners association made $5,000 available for fix-up grants.
Residents, except possibly those who have been ticketed, seem to be thrilled by the get-tough attitude. A recent local newspaper survey showed them overwhelmingly in favor of the ordinance.
Officials have found a few drawbacks, however. For example, some residents seem to be a little overeager to turn in their neighbors. "We have to be careful," Kozlik said.
The ordinance has even become involved in some famly fights. "One lady called on her husband," Kozlik said. "They had a shed that had blown down in a windstorm. She said she wanted us to ticket him so he'd get off his rear and do something about it."