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Rains bring rise in complaints about overgrown lawns, high weeds

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, August 8, 2013, at 11:03 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at 11:56 a.m.

Grass and weeds this summer have become botanical Freddy Kruegers: They keep coming back to life, despite the best intentions of mowers and weed eaters.

Recent rains also have produced a bumper crop of complaints about overgrown lawns and weedy empty lots. The city of Wichita says it’s seen a 200 percent increase in complaints about tall grass and weeds from residents and inspectors compared with past summers. From Monday to Wednesday, the city logged 360 complaints from residents and inspectors. About 90 complaints came in Wednesday, said Deb Legge, neighborhood inspection administrator for the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department.

“It’s been crazy this year with the rain,” said Legge, whose inspection team handles only city cases.

Sedgwick County has handled 50 percent more complaints last month than the month before, a 15 percent to 20 percent increase over past summers, said Amanda Matthews, a county spokeswoman.

In the city, complaints can be made when grass or weeds are above a foot high. In the county, the threshold is 18 inches.

Weeds and grass in an empty lot on Piatt just east of I-135 have grown chest-high to an adult. Weeds and grass have obscured a fire hydrant at Second and Washington in Old Town. Areas between sidewalks and curbs are overgrown across town.

People who can’t – or won’t – keep up will pay up.

When someone files a complaint about tall weeds and grass in the city, a notice goes out giving the property owner two weeks to mow. When property owners don’t take care of the problem within two weeks, a contractor hired by the city does the mowing for them – at the owner’s expense.

“It depends on the size of the lot, but a regular lot is probably about $120 or so once we pay the contractor and the administrative fee,” Legge said. “If our contractor has to mow, they’ll get billed.”

And if they get billed but don’t pay, the city will file a special assessment on their property – essentially a tax lien.

“If property is posted ‘no trespassing’ or is fenced, we can’t legally go onto the property,” Legge added. “Those cases get kicked over to neighborhood inspectors.”

Property owners are responsible for mowing the right of way in front of houses and businesses. If there is an alley behind a house or business, the property owner also is responsible for the alley area that runs the width of the property and halfway into the alley.

Legge said many of the problems arise at empty properties.

“There’s a lot of vacant properties with all the foreclosures. Some are going to be occupied properties, and that’s not unusual either,” she said. “We also have a lot of developments that they started building on and then the economy slowed down. So there can be dozens of lots that haven’t been mowed in one development.”

Most people faced with a complaint mow before the city sends out someone to mow for them, Legge said.

The city’s contractor is having a tough time with all the rains, too.

“We have one contractor right now. They just can’t keep up, and it keeps raining.”

Legge said Wednesday that the contractor had only gotten to four lots in the past couple of weeks. Usually there are 75 to 100 lots on a work order, she said.

“You can’t get in there” to mow when it’s wet, she said.

Although the city gives people two weeks to mow after a complaint is filed, it’s a one-time break. If the city gets a second or subsequent complaint about a property, it sends its contractor out with no notice.

“You only get one notice,” Legge said. “If we get repeat complaints, we’ll just put it on a work order and mow. We won’t mess around with two weeks’ notice.”

The city mows land it owns about every three weeks, said Doug Kupper, parks and recreation director. The city mows parks, medians, street rights of way and landscaping on either side of Kellogg.

“Most everything gets mowed every 21 to 27 days,” Kupper said. “Some medians are on a 14-day rotation. We have some parks on 14-day rotations.”

Two-thirds of the city’s mowing, covering about 5,500 acres, is contracted out privately, Kupper said.

“Our contractors with the rains and everything have had some delays,” Kupper said.

People who have a complaint about high weeds and grass within the city limits can call 316-268-4463. For complaints in the county, call 316-660-1840.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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