The grass-mowing season can be expensive — and not just because of the rising cost of fuel.
Property owners who treat their lawns like open prairie, letting the grass grow unchecked, might find themselves facing fines, assessments for mowing costs and even jail time.
This month, the Canton City Council passed a law making it a fourth-degree misdemeanor to have a lawn with grass higher than 8 inches. Starting July 3, offenders can be fined $250 and sentenced to a maximum of 30 days in jail.
''It cost the city $250,000 last year just to cut grass, and we have already
spent $300,000 this year,'' Ward 1 Councilman Greg Hawk said, explaining why the penalty was increased from a $150 fine. ''We think that money would be better spent toward fire or police protection or some other services. It's time for the city of Canton to get out of the lawn-mowing business.''
The councilman said the city is looking for the worst examples. ''The health department and law department came up with a list this week and as a result, seven property owners with high grass are facing minor misdemeanor charges,'' Hawk said.
''We can't charge these seven under the new law, because it isn't in effect yet, but we are taking the first step and starting the process, so if it escalates to a fourth-degree misdemeanor we can take the repeat offenders to court and let a judge decide whether to enforce jail time.''
Stow officials were glad to hear about Canton's new policy.
''We cut it out so that when residents criticize our law, we can refer to Canton and say, 'Well we don't give jail time,' '' said Bobbie Carper, Stow's zoning compliance officer.
''The first time the grass exceeds 8 inches, we notify the property owner. We give them seven days. If they don't cut it, we do. If they are delinquent in the future, we are not required to contact them again.''
Stow charges a property owner only the cost of labor for the first cut. The city uses a contractor who charges $37.50 an hour per worker.
Fines are added to the labor cost for subsequent violations: $50 for the second mowing, $100 for the third and $150 each time after that. If the fines are not paid in 30 days, the property is assessed.
''We may not get our money until next year, but we do get our money back,'' Carper said.
In Tallmadge, having high grass can be a criminal offense. The first offense is a minor misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $150 plus court costs. It's a first-degree misdemeanor for four or more convictions, and offenders can be fined $1,000 and sentenced to a maximum of six months in jail.
''I have to admit we have never prosecuted anyone for more than a minor misdemeanor,'' said Tallmadge Law Director Penny Taylor. ''No jail time has ever been given. The city usually takes the civil route and goes with the tax assessments.''
Jack Williams, Tallmadge's civil enforcement officer, said there have been 40 complaints in the city so far this year, most involving vacant homes.
Tallmadge Service Director Dave Kline said people just walk away from their responsibility — not only when they lose their homes to foreclosure, but also when they move out of town.
''We've had to call real estate agents on properties. Luckily, their names are on the for-sale signs,'' Kline said. ''Some agents have even insisted we have the lawns cut before their open houses. They know the homeowner will be billed.''
In Barberton, building inspector Michael Vinay said foreclosures are the reason for a big jump in mowing violations, noting that 90 percent of them this year involve vacant properties.
''We are flooded right now with high-grass complaints,'' Vinay said. ''We have had 200 properties so far this year that the city has had to mow. We had 200 all of last year.''
Generally, mowing violations in the Akron area are complaint driven, but city workers may take notice of a property when they are in the field.
In Akron, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn , Norton and Tallmadge, tall grass becomes a violation when it's more than 8 inches high. The maximum height is 10 inches in Hudson and Wadsworth and 12 inches in Green.
Here's how some communities deal with tall grass:
Akron — After property owners are notified by certified mail or posted notice, they have five days to cut weeds and high grass considered a nuisance. The charge is $230 for the first two mowings. After that, it's $230 plus a $350 fine.
''We sometimes have to cut the same property seven or eight times,'' said Ronald Williamson, deputy service director. ''Last year, we mowed 8,083 lots, and we've already received 3,200 complaints for this year.''
Copley Township — Because it's a township, state guidelines have to be followed in dealing with mowing violations.
Township Administrator Peggy Spraggins said after a complaint is filed, a letter is sent out to the property owner, who is given two weeks to comply. If the owner does not comply, a certified letter is then sent. Within 30 days, the township passes a resolution, which is posted to the home and advertised in a newspaper. Then a contractor will be hired to take care of the lawn, with the cost added to the owner's property taxes.
Cuyahoga Falls — The penalty is a $50 administrative fee plus the labor cost of $50 an hour for two city workers and equipment use.
Fairlawn — A property owner has five days to respond after receiving a certified letter. Then city crews will mow the lawn and charge the labor cost — generally $100, depending on lot size. After the first violation, there's also a $50 administrative fee.
Green — The city sends out a 10-day notice and also publishes that notice in the newspaper in case the property is unoccupied. If the grass is not mowed, the property owner of record is billed. If the city has to mow the grass, there's an initial fee of $50 for maintenance costs plus an $85 administrative fee. The owner has 30 days to pay the bill or a lien is placed on the property.
Hudson — When grass reaches 10 inches, the city hires a private contractor, starting at $150. The property owner is billed and if the bill isn't paid, a lien is placed on the property.
Norton — Property owners are contacted by letter about mowing violations and a notice is posted on the property. The owner has five days to respond.
''On the sixth day, we go in and mow,'' Zoning Inspector Pat Ryan said. ''We charge them $100 an hour for each employee we have to use and $60 for each piece of equipment used.''
Wadsworth — A seven-day notice is given on mowing violations, and if there is no action by the property owner, the city hires a contractor and tacks on an administrative fee of $100 to the contractor's labor charge. When the bill isn't paid, the assessment is placed on the property tax bill.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.