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How Montgomery protects lawns, value of homes

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

In the past five years, Alabama’s capital city has helped homeowners retain property values by prohibiting residents from parking on front lawns.

In Decatur, residents can legally fill their yards with vehicles as long as they don’t appear to be junk cars.

During a recent community meeting, Michelle Jordan, director of the city’s Community Development and Planning departments, said code-enforcement officers require residents to remove cars from yards if they find unlicensed vehicles that also appear inoperable.

Decatur’s ordinance requires residents to properly license stored vehicles that are viewable from a street or alley, but some exploit a loophole in the law by backing their automobiles to their homes to hide missing or expired license plates. Alabama vehicle owners need license plates only on the rear of an automobile.

Some yards in Decatur’s older communities are little more than dirt parking lots.

Montgomery, Homewood and Madison, however, require residents to park on approved driveways.

Eddie Hill Jr., chief property maintenance inspector in Montgomery, said the capital city’s ordinance has been successful in preventing neighborhood blight since its inception in 2002.

“Most of the neighborhoods and neighborhood associations are endorsing it,” Hill said, “so they can have a steady increase in the value of property. We go out and some neighborhoods have grass completely worn down with mudholes in the front yard.”

People try to sell their homes, Hill said, but the property value has depreciated. Potential buyers don’t want to live next to eyesores.

“Our ordinance has been very successful,” Hill said. “We’ve tied it in with a $150 administrative fee, and they have 10 days to abate the nuisance.”

Residents still pay the fee regardless of whether they move the car, said Hill.

“Abatement agents tow the car after 10 days,” Hill said. “We go out and pull it for $60 and there is a $15-per-day storage fee.”

The city also places signs on the property and writes letters to homeowners, warning of the violation.

“They have a right to appeal before the next council meeting,” Hill said. “If they haven’t moved the vehicle, we go ahead and tow it, charge the tow fee and put a lien on the property.”

The city is careful to document the violation, and its ordinance hasn’t been challenged in court, Hill said.

“We take photos of the vehicle, and after the council rules on it we take video film,” Hill said. “Even if it did go to court, there is evidence they didn’t comply.”

No neighborhood is exempt from the rule, Hill said, but the city is flexible when someone has hospice care or special occasions like weddings. The city receives compliments on its work, he said.

Parking in side yards behind the front plane of a house or in the backyard is permissible, Hill said.

Some residents who try to use the ordinance are vindictive and have animosity toward their neighbors, Hill said.

“When we get a complaint, we work the whole street or one block,” Hill said. “Usually their property is in worse shape than the property they’re reporting on.”

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