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Posted: June 18, 2013 9:43 p.m.

City mulls tougher grass, weed laws

Covington City Council members want a cleaner city, and putting more restrictions on the unruly growth of grass and weeds is up for discussion.

The council agreed to discuss the issue of overgrown properties at its next meeting after resident Wayne King complained about overgrown lots in his neighborhood on Highland Drive.

Covington’s laws don’t allow homeowners to have grass or weeds grow higher than 12 inches; however, Senior Planner Scott Gaither said that doesn’t apply to vacant lots with no structures on them.

Vegetation on vacant lots is allowed to grow unheeded, based on the current interpretation of the city’s laws.

King complained about a nearby property but was told by city officials no ordinances were being broken.

He told the council Monday the overgrown lots can be fire hazards as well as breeding grounds for snakes, rats and armadillos.

Council members Ocie Franklin, Chris Smith and Hawnethia Williams and Mayor Ronnie Johnston all agreed it was unfair for some people to let their grass grow unheeded while others maintained their lawns.

Williams said the council needed to look at a more intense ordinance, as grown-up yards were an issue all over the city.

Johnston suggested the council discuss the issue at its next meeting, but cautioned the city will have to be careful of violating personal property rights.

Gaither said the city has been tearing down abandoned houses the past few years in an effort to clean up the city, which has led to overgrown yards replacing rundown buildings. Most of those buildings already have liens on them, so Gaither said it might not be effective to put further liens on the properties to pay for the cost of the city mowing them.

According to online news reports, several other cities across the nation have laws similar to Covington’s.

Most city ordinances seem to restrict grass and weed height to 10 to 12 inches, though Minneapolis has an ordinance that limits the height to 8 inches.

Newton County’s ordinance don’t specify a height, but outlaws uncut grass or weeds around residential dwellings, commercial establishments and some vacant properties to prevent them from becoming "a breeding place for insects, rodents or reptiles, or constitute a fire hazard."

Covington’s ordinance gives a property owner 10 days to clean up a yard after being notified. A property owner can be punished via fine or probation or jail time if he or she doesn’t comply, based on the discretion of the Covington Municipal Court judge; the same penalties apply to the breaking of any city law.

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