Property maintenance code advances in FD

An updated property maintenance code that would make it easier for Fort Dodge officials to take action on some nuisance properties received the preliminary approval of the City Council Monday.

Two residents spoke in support of the code update, and displayed photos of what they said were debris-strewn properties near their homes to buttress their claim that the change is needed.

”That’s why staff has asked us to consider passing this comprehensive ordinance update so we can give them the ability to go and deal with that problem,” Mayor Matt Bemrich said.

All properties in the city are now subject to the property maintenance code, which governs the condition of buildings and lots. However, if the problem site is an owner-occupied home and the effort to get it remedied ends up in Magistrate Court, city inspectors now have a higher burden of proof to meet that isn’t in effect for commercial buildings or rental properties.

Under current city law, officials must prove that the owner-occupied home is a public nuisance for one of these reasons:

– It is a menace to the general health and safety of the community.

– It is a fire hazard.

– It is unsafe for occupancy.

– It is insufficiently or inadequately maintained.

Stacey Hamilton, the city’s neighborhood wellness coordinator, has said those four criteria are not clearly defined and require that people who live near the problem site testify in court.

The proposed change eliminates those four criteria and relies instead on a more precise definition contained in the 2012 International Property Maintenance Code.

”I am here in full support of what you’re trying to do,” Leann Eldredge, of 819 Sixth Ave, N., told the council.

She gave the council members photos which she said show debris piled up the yard of a home near hers. She said the mess started when a couch was placed on the porch. She said soon things were stacked on that couch and eventually items were all over the yard.

Eldredge said the property owner is now storing trash under a tarp in the back yard because she doesn’t like the new trash containers provided by the city.

Wayne Rentz, of 123 Second St. N.W., presented a poster-size photo of a home with a car, a boat and other debris in the front yard.

No one spoke against the code update during Monday’s meeting. However, Mike Bradley, of 230 Ave. D, expressed concern that the code might somehow be used to take advantage of low-income people.

The first reading of the code update was approved on a unanimous vote. It most be approved two more times to become law.

The property maintenance code is one of a handful of codes that city officials hope to update this year.

On Monday, the council also gave preliminary approval to updating the building, electrical, fire prevention, mechanical and plumbing codes.

There was no public comment on any of those proposed code updates.