The Minnetrista city council will be discussing the possibility of adopting a nuisance property ordinance at an upcoming council work session due to a property that has been the subject of complaints over the years. I am not necessarily opposed to one but have some concerns to be addressed:
- The difficulty of establishing a definition of a “nuisance.” One person’s art is another person’s junk and the subjective nature of prohibiting certain things on private property is inherently problematic.
- Making a nuisance property ordinance applicable city-wide to all properties requires uniform language. It is literally impossible to take into account the geographic landscape of each property in the largely rural areas where some may have trees/hills obscuring the sight of prohibited things and others without trees or hills are at a disadvantage and would be more scrutinized. HOAs have their own restrictions that may cause confusion.
- Burdening the city with complaints from neighbors that just don’t get along for a variety of reasons. Far too often people aren’t willing to resolve issues with their neighbors face to face and turn to the city as a first, rather than a last, resort.
I sympathize with the residents I’ve heard from and have driven by the property in question which is, indeed, unsightly and looks like a junk yard. If I lived next door I wouldn’t be happy either.
However, if the majority of the council wants an ordinance I believe there must be a process to ensure property owners are protected from frivolous complaints. I would suggest the following:
- Require the Complainant to obtain at least three signatures of other property owners within a quarter mile of the property detailing precisely what the nuisance items are and what the remedy requested is (remove, store out-of-sight). This step would help ensure it’s a real neighborhood concern, rather than a personal quarrel, and warrants the city’s involvement.
- Once signatures are obtained a demand letter from the city could be mailed to, or served on, the respondent giving the property owner notice and timeframe for remedy before being penalized with a fine. Provisions for anonymity should be available for Complainants.
As far as defining what a nuisance is, as long as the above process is in place, a broad definition referencing what a “reasonable person” would consider an unsightly eyesore that impairs their ability to enjoy their property or affects the valuation of their property, would seem reasonable. I’m not a fan of setting limits on types of items or numbers of vehicles, trailers, farm implements, etc. There are just too many variables to consider.
Any time the city decides to regulate what property owners can or can’t do we must weigh the consequences of any restrictions on the rights of private property owners vs. the benefits to the community at large. Restrictions always have costs to one group and benefits to another so we must take great care in weighing consequences to both.