Chesterfield investigating homeowners with tall grass

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Chesterfield County code enforcement officers tell NBC12 May is their busiest month. Hundreds of people call or email to report properties where grass is taller than 12 inches.

From July 1, 2010 to May 26, 2011 Chesterfield logged 1,238 cases of tall grass. Just this month 392 new cases with an additional 50 cases needing to be entered into the county's system.

One home off of Tuxford Road and Midlothian Turnpike has grass three-feet tall. The home is empty. Neighbors have repeatedly called Chesterfield County over the last three years. Neighbors worry ticks, snakes and rodents have moved in to the backyard that is wild and uncut.

Thursday morning, neighbor David Robinson cringed at the sight of the home across the street from his.

"It looks ugly. It's a blight on the neighborhood." (So you're willing to mow it yourself sometimes?) "Yes, and I have," said Robinson.

He pushes his lawn mower across the street anytime his family comes to visit. He said he's too embarrassed to let them see the "real thing."

Neighbors are also concerned about ticks, snakes and rodents that live in areas with tall grass.

The county's grass watchdog Brian Chamberlain is now taking on the task of taming the turf.  Chamberlain is the only code enforcement officer dedicated to complaints of tall grass. Each day he maps out the location of dozens of homes.  He uses one tool: a ruler.

Chesterfield County requires lawn areas of occupied residential property to be no taller than 12 inches.

The 18 inch requirement applies to vacant lots with or without buildings or houses.

"It's spring," said Chamberlain. "Things are starting to grow."

Chamberlain will work with property owners. "A lot of times we'll go out to a property and the person tried to start the lawnmower up and it's broken, and it takes them a week to get it fixed."

He said on average it takes him five days after the complaint to make an initial visit to the property. He said 30% of properties reported to have tall grass are in compliance by the time he makes his rounds.

But if the property owner fails to be in compliance by the time he makes his initial visit, the county will send notice. At that time the property owner has seven days to comply.

If you don't, the county will send a crew and put a lien on your house until you pay the county back.

Chamberlain has tracked people down in other states, and has some banks on speed dial.  Foreclosed properties also need to comply with Chesterfield's rules.

Chamberlain said he is so busy this month he is visiting some properties on Sundays. "Good customer service is our goal."

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