Ordinance gives city power to clean up flooded neighborhoods

Eric Moeder looks down the block from his home in southeast Minot and counts nine abandoned vehicles many of them junked reminders of a flood that happened nearly two years ago.

“It’s a disgrace to the city,” Moeder said. “I just don’t feel that this is a representation of Minot.”

Moeder’s neighborhood isn’t the only one plagued by abandoned vehicles, which often sit outside untouched, flood-damaged homes. City council member Amy Moen said she has received several phone calls about junked cars in yards from west-side residents of her ward. She was able to get the concerns addressed under the city’s nuisance ordinance.

The city doesn’t act on abandoned vehicles unless a complaint is filed, said Darrell Linnertz, Minot’s building inspector. Residents have two options for filing complaints but the ensuing process with either option is similar.

Residents can initiate the process by contacting the Environmental Health Division at First District Health Unit at 852-1376 or the Minot building inspector by calling the Engineering Department at 857-4100.

Linnertz said if an abandoned vehicle is on the public right of way, the matter will be turned over to the police. If the vehicle is on private property, an inspector will tag the vehicle with an orange sticker. City ordinance gives people five days to abate a nuisance once notified. If not abated, the city can enter the property, tow the vehicle and assess costs to the owner.

Because ownership can be unclear or owners difficult to find, it can take three months or more to resolve a problem, Linnertz said.

If vehicle ownership can’t be determined, the city will notify the property owner. In that case, the property owner will be assessed the towing cost if the city has to remove the vehicle.

Linnertz said the city typically gets one or two calls a month about abandoned vehicles, although that total has been higher some months due to the flood. For 2012, the city did not have to assess towing costs to any owners for failing to respond to notifications.

People can be fined up to $500 and jailed up to 30 days for a violation of the nuisance code. A vehicle must be out of commission to be considered a nuisance.

Jim Heckman, director of environmental health at First District, said if a vehicle is not licensed, insured or operable, it must be removed or covered with a form-fitting wrap, not just a tarp.

“If they are licensed, no matter how bad they look, technically, we cannot do much about it,” said Dave Lehner, council member. Lehner investigated Moeder’s neighborhood, which is in his ward, and ended up filing complaints on six vehicles.

Moeder said his personal scan of his two-block area found 19 violations of fire, sanitation and nuisance codes. Besides vehicles with outdated or no tags or registrations, concerns include residents living in pop-up campers on leased land in front of abandoned homes and using improperly rated extension cords, he said. He finds health and safety risks associated with vacant and unsecured houses, which attract vagrants.

Many vacant houses in the city are in buyout zones for a future flood control project. Houses purchased by the city are awaiting demolition this summer.

“My concern is the same as the neighborhood,” Heckman said of the vacant houses. “I know the city owns it and I know they are working on it, but there’s a lot of health and safety issues out there on the property that the city owns.”

City manager David Waind said the city secures houses as they are purchased, but not all vacant houses in buyout areas have been purchased. The city is looking to the Legislature for additional money to buy more homes.

Waind said that regardless of whether vacant houses are city or privately owned, neighbors who suspect inappropriate activity or feel health and safety issues exist should report concerns to First District Health Unit or the city inspection office.

First District recommends that owners board up vacant houses and keep lots cleared to reduce their risk of liability.