A viewer reached out to 13 Investigates looking for help after he received a code violation from the City of Rockford. He was alarmed, thinking he could have to pay a fine a $750 for grass clippings he says blew into the street from his property.
13 Investigates did some research and learned that wasn't the case. $750 was the maximum fine he could have faced had he not shown for his code hearing. The city tells 13 Investigates the fine would have only been $50 for this specific case. The entire matter was dropped after the city spoke with the man and left him with a warning. 13 Investigates sat down with the city to find out more about what you need to know to avoid getting a violation of your own.
When a home's grass is too long, or garbage is piling up the City of Rockford says neighbors have a voice.
"If your neighbors are complaining about something, they're entitled to make sure that's up to code, looks good, and is maintained," says Assistant City Attorney Matthew Flores.
If a code officer responds to your home after getting a call from a neighbor or just sees an infraction on their own, they say the first step is communication.
"We want to talk to someone there at the property," says Neighborhood Standards Supervisor Rob Wilhelmi. "So they look to see if someone is home. If they aren't we try to document the violation and it goes into our standard notice of code violation and it's mailed to the property owner on record."
If homeowners aren't home at the time of the visit and do get a violation, they're encouraged to reach out to the city.
"Our inspectors names are put on the violations so that way we can at least tell them what they can't do and how to abate the issue at bay," says Wilhelmi.
If the issue isn't resolved over the phone, a code hearing will take place. That happens at City Hall with a code enforcement officer, city staff, and a city attorney.
"The goal of code hearing is compliance, it isn't to squeeze money out of our own citizens for not having properties up to code, it's to educate and bring properties up to compliance," says Flores.
The city says it tries to understand why the homeowner is having this issue, and if they need a hand fixing it.
"The city staff is present and makes recommendations if they may qualify for some of our grants for re-roofing a home or any kind of rehabilitation work," says Flores. "So being able to connect them with that in one location is very important."
In 2017 the city brought in $142,728 in revenue from code violations. The city's finance department says this money is used to try and offset the cost of the neighborhoods department.
"Really the goal is to make it a self sufficient operation, so that we collect enough fine revenue to pay for the staff," says Finance Director Carrie Hagerty.
This year the city is projecting to bring in $179,500 in revenue from code violations. While this is an increase from 2017, the city says it's not increasing fines or writing more tickets. It says this is due to it being more aggressive with problem properties and owners who've evaded payments in the past.
"Code enforcement issues are becoming a growing problem with absentee property owners, banks that don't maintain properties that they foreclosed on, things like that," says Hagerty. "Really I think the city wants to step up enforcement of those because they become life safety issues."