Overgrown properties on the rise this summer

Local cities and counties are seeing an increase in property-maintenance violations this summer now that the drought is over.

Area officials say most problems arise from vacant properties as a result of foreclosures, owners' deaths or even military duty.

Residents of Hammond Drive in North Augusta have dealt with a property violating codes for more than 10 years. Sharon Ashe said it has become a health hazard.

"There are rodents in the backyard," Ms. Ashe said. "Rats, mice, I couldn't tell you which it is."

Mac Westbrook, the zoning and code compliance inspector for North Augusta, said the homeowner lives in Texas.

"I tell her it needs to be cut every three weeks," Mr. Westbrook said.

Codes are in place to regulate yard care. Mr. Westbrook said he can't do anything until weeds are 12 inches or higher.

North Augusta typically has about 150 yard-maintenance violations a year, Mr. Westbrook said, and citations are about average this summer.

Columbia County's number of code violations could double from last year's.

"Last year ... we had approximately 190," said Linda Glasscock, the Columbia County code-compliance manager. "This year through July we are already up to 184."

Last year's drought kept the cases down, but Ms. Glasscock said heavy rains and more vacant homes are responsible for the increase in complaints.

Augusta has a high incidence of property violations each year. Code Enforcement Manager Pamela Costabile said her office cites 400 or more lots in a year.

"This year it seems like we can't keep up with it," Ms. Costabile said. "When I talk to inspectors it seems like they are trying to contact a lot of the banks who now own the properties."

Most complaints are about overgrown vegetation or excessive trash, Ms. Costabile said. Calls are more frequent in the summer.

"It is worse because the snakes are worse and people are scared," she said. "It harbors the bugs and the rats and that sort of thing, so we get a lot of calls during the spring and summer."

Reach Crystal Garcia at (706) 823-3409 or crystal.garcia@augustachronicle.com.

PROPERTY REGULATIONS

BRUSH: All trees and shrubs not cultivated must be less than 7 feet tall.

RUBBISH: Exterior and interior premises must be free from accumulation of items normally discarded.

WEEDS: Uncultivated vegetable growth cannot exceed a certain height set by each county.

SWIMMING POOLS: Required to be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition, and in good repair.

Source: 2003 International Property Maintenance Code

AREA CODE OFFICES

Augusta Richmond County

Code Enforcement

(706) 312-5049

Columbia County

Development Services

(706) 868-3420, or dial 311

North Augusta

Code Compliance

(803) 441-4258

Aiken County

Planning and Development

(803) 642-1518

City of Aiken

Neighborhood and Development Services

(803) 642-7779