Jason DeLorenzo. Photo by Brian McMillan

Who should pay for the city's work done on overgrown lawns?

The city of Palm Coast has sent out letters to request payment for yard work done a few years earlier. But some was done for previous owners.
By: 
Jul. 28, 2015

City Councilman Jason DeLorenzo is concerned that homeowners who are charged unfairly for yard cleanup will be frustrated at having to contact the city themselves to resolve the problem.

About 500 letters were sent out this summer to Palm Coast residents, informing them that they had a past-due charge and owed money because the city had done work on their yards within the past four years. However, some residents have complained to DeLorenzo, as well as posting complaints on Swip-Swap and sending letters to the Palm Coast Observer, saying that they have received a letter in error: They didn’t own the property when the city did the yard cleanup, and they didn’t even know there had been a problem in the past.

City Manager Jim Landon explained that the process goes like this: When someone’s lawn is too tall, or the vegetation is overgrown and creating a fire hazard, the city of Palm Coast puts the owner on notice for violating the city’s code. But when the owner still doesn’t take care of the problem, the city itself mows the lawn or cuts the vegetation.

If that were the end of the story, it would mean the taxpayers are essentially paying to mow delinquent homeowners’ lawns. To avoid that problem, the city puts a lien on the home to make sure that the property can’t be sold to someone else without paying back the city for the yardwork.

As it turns out, that process is not perfect. Sometimes the title company doesn’t accurately record the lien. Sometimes the new homeowner takes a risk and doesn’t check for liens before purchasing the home; for example, someone who wants to flip the home for a quick profit. A couple of times, Landon said, title companies have paid for utilities and other items in one check, and never made it clear that a portion of the money was for a lien.

But, Landon said, “We are confident in our system to know that there are only a handful that fall under these categories.”

DeLorenzo challenged the process and asked if the city had checked to see if the residents to whom the letters are being sent were, in fact, the owners of the property at the time the yardwork was completed. Landon replied that the city did not have the staff resources to check all of the properties, and so they are relying on residents to contact the city if they dispute the charge.

“I’m not terribly comfortable with it,” DeLorenzo said. The wording in the letters that are being sent is not entirely clear, he said. And for busy families where both parents work, they are thinking, “I’ve got to get down to the city and figure out what to do with this,” he said.

The issue arose at the Palm Coast City Council workshop on July 28, because the city will need to take action to have the cost of the yard cleanup — technically referred to as “nuisance abatement” — added to next year’s tax rolls. If you think you received a letter in error, call 986-2334 to resolve it.