RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — WHen your neighbor doesn’t mow their lawn, it ends up costing you — the taxpayer — big bucks. Now, city officials in Richmond are slapping hefty fines on homeowners to get out of the lawn mowing business.
“I have to step out in grass that might be two feet tall,” Drew Raine, who’s fed up with a neighbor’s tall grass. He says it’s not only unsightly but also invites crime, ticks and trash.
“Behind the house next door people drop off refrigerators, mattresses, rip them apart and leave them all there in the high grass,” Raine explained.
Yet every spring and summer, the City of Richmond is bombarded with complaints of tall grass.
John Walsh, Code Enforcement Operations Manager for Richmond, says it costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Traditionally we have spent anywhere from $250,000 to upwards of $500,000 cutting private grass, not city grass, not median strips,” he said.
So this season, Richmond started issuing a one-time warning that comes with a $50 dollar civil penalty for that first offense. That fine jumps to $200 for repeat violations. You won’t get a second notice, just the penalty.
“It allows the City to create consequences for not cutting the grass,” Walsh said. “We needed to look at someway of getting out of the private grass cutting business.”
A business that is not only costly for the city, but also takes code enforcement away from potentially serious safety issues.
“Nobody has ever died from tall grass, people die every day from faulty electrical, bad structures,” Walsh said.
Richmond has been aggressive in enforcing the new penalty policy. 8News found in just the first three months of the new rule, more than 800 violation notices and fines were issued.
“As of August 8, we billed a little over $28,000 in civil penalties alone,” Walsh said.
“Excellent,” says Minnie Carter, who lives near lawn cutting violators on Decatur Street.
“It is like that constantly,” she says pointing to the high grass at one of her neighbor’s homes.
She applauds the fines.
“There are those of us that try as best we can, even as old as I am, and there are others that let it go and that downs the neighborhood,” Carter said.
Raine approves, too, but he thinks the city should double down on those fines.
“I think the 200 should be first, I think it should start higher than 50, people need to cut their grass,” he said.
City leaders have gotten some complaints about the first time fines. But at a home hit with a fine early in the season, residents admitted to 8News their grass was too high. They told us they were wrong. Now, they tell 8News they’re making sure that lawn is mowed.
And inspectors report after that initial penalty, a number of their repeat offenders are now cutting their grass.
In addition to the fines, if the city has to send a crew to mow your lawn, you will get billed for the service in the form of a tax lien against the property. All fines collected will go to the city’s general fund.