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When unsightly grass inches up, town cracks down on homeowners

Property owners with overgrown grass in the Town of Clarence, start your lawnmower engines.

The town intends to crack down on grass that reaches unsightly heights. It is tracking roughly 30 properties that either exceed the limit or are inching toward that status.

Some Town Board members are frustrated with a pattern they see each year. The grass grows uncut for weeks at a property, often a vacant home with an out-of-town owner or a foreclosed home under a bank's control. The neighbors are forced to live with the lack of lawn care, and the town has to step in.

The town has an independent contractor on standby to cut grass that grows too tall. The contractor has been used once this season and may soon be sent to some other properties, said David Metzger, senior code enforcement officer.

A town law passed in 2009 lays out the process. The grass, weeds or plant growth on a property must exceed 10 inches in height. The property owner is given an official notice of violation and has 10 days to comply.

If the grass remains uncut after the 10 days, the town will have its contractor do the job, and the property owner gets billed for the work. And if the property owner fails to pay within 30 days of the mailing, a lien is placed on the property.

Councilman Patrick Casilio said he dislikes that if the town cuts a neglected property's grass, the town must wait until the grass again surpasses 10 inches before doing something about it.

"It puts the homeowners around them under duress again, and it's a lengthy, time-consuming process for our code enforcement officer," he said. In those cases, he would prefer to see the town's contractor routinely cut the grass -- and the work billed to the property owner -- until the property owner commits to doing the job.

But Town Attorney Lawrence M. Meckler said after reviewing the law, he liked its contents and believes its penalties are severe enough to get property owners to comply. "I don't know that you can do much more than you already did back in 2009, because administratively, you really need to provide due process the second time around," he told Town Board members.

And nearly all homeowners have complied by the deadline after receiving a notice of violation, Meckler said.

The law says the cost of cutting the grass, weeds and plant growth consists of the cost of services for an independent contractor, plus a surcharge of 25 percent of those costs or $150, whichever is greater, to reimburse the town for supervision and administration. The property owner is billed for all of those costs.

Additionally, any person found in violation faces a fine of up to $250 and/or up to 15 days of jail time, according to the law.

"If we enforce it and we follow through and we do our job, the law you have in place really is a hammer," Meckler said.