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Towns working to right the blight by imposing fines for lack of curb appeal

A New York village's plan to fine homeowners up to $10,000 for letting their digs get shabby could be the wave of the future for communities around the country as they battle sinking property values and rampant foreclosures.

Home and business owners in Massapequa Park, Long Island, face the five-figure fines and even up to 15 days in jail for such maintenance issues as overgrown lawns, broken windows and graffiti. And while some say the new law is classic governmental overreach, Mayor James Altadonna told that a “number of other municipalities” — including the nearby Town of Brookhaven — are considering similar measures.

“It was really out of frustration in trying to get banks to maintain [foreclosed] properties, so we wanted to craft a law that would be significant enough to get the attention of the banks,” Altadonna told “We’re willing to work with anyone who will respond to us and maintain their property. These fines are only for the most egregious.”

And like those in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and now Massapequa Park, N.Y., the Birmingham, Ala., suburb of Pelham also enforces a local ordinance pertaining to unfavorable appearances at buildings or establishments.

“Said premises shall be maintained in such a condition so as not to constitute an eyesore or unfavorable appearance or dangerous condition, including any unpainted, decaying or unused automobile or other vehicle, or rubbish or any other condition offensive to the appearance of said premises,” according to city code.

In Massapequa Park, owners have 10 days to comply with a village order to rectify conditions at their premises before fines are imposed, Altadonna said. First-time offenders for violations like broken outdoor lighting fixtures or fallen trees can lead to fines of up to $1,000, and subsequent offenses can lead to fines as high as $10,000 and up to 15 days in jail.

“The Village finds that the presence of blight upon properties, caused by factors including, but not limited to, foreclosures throughout the Village, is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the Village,” the law reads. “It is the intent, therefore, of the Village that blight be identified, abated and eliminated . . . ”

The law passed unanimously during a village meeting on Monday and has already led to several inquiries from nearby municipalities, including Brookhaven, a town of roughly 500,000 in Suffolk County. But don’t expect to see blighted properties in Massapequa Park, Altadonna said.

“You’re not going to see houses with broken windows [in Massapequa Park],” Altadonna said. “But how would you feel living across the street from a house that has 18 inches of grass in front of it?”

Meanwhile, at least two people this year have spent time behind bars for failure to maintain their properties. In January, a woman in Mount Pleasant, S.C., was sentenced to 10 days in jail after failing to pay a $480 fine for a having a messy yard. Linda Ruggles, 53, ignored court appearances connected to the fine and was eventually sent to jail, the Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

A month later, a Florida man was reportedly sentenced to a year and one day in jail after he failed to remove junk from his front yard as part of conditions of his probation connected to illegal dumping charges.

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