The town of Orange has a wide variety of personalities in many different types of neighborhoods.
There are some streets with ranch-style homes just blocks away from exclusive hidden cul-de-sacs with beautiful McMansions.
But, no matter what your neighborhood is like, there is a chance that one of the homes or yards may look a little less desirable. A rusty old abandoned truck used as a garden decoration with weeds growing out of the grill and maybe plants in the bed. One person’s idea of beauty may be another person’s definition of blight.
Orange has a blight ordinance and the details of what is considered blight may actually surprise you.
The ordinance covers any building, structure, or parcel of land where at least one of the following conditions exists.
When an appropriate town official determines that a condition exists that poses a serious or immediate threat to the health, safety, or general welfare of the community. Including if the Fire Marshal has determined that a building or structure is a fire hazard.
If the property is in a state of disrepair or is becoming dilapidated causing unsafe or unsanitary conditions or a nuisance to the public and be evidenced by one or more of the following conditions
1) Missing, broken or boarded up windows and doors
2) Collapsing or missing walls or roof
3) Seriously damaged or missing siding
4) Unrepaired fire or water damage.
5) Rodent harborage and/or infestation.
6) Persistent garbage or trash on the property.
7) Abandoned motor vehicle on the premises unless properly permitted as a junkyard.
8) Overgrown brush, shrubs, and weeds.
9) Visible portions of the property characterized by significant unattended bare dirt patches.
10) Parking lots left in a state of disrepair or abandonment.
The overall condition of the property causes an unreasonable impact on the enjoyment of or value of neighboring properties as expressed by persistent complaints from adjoining property owners.
Penalties for offenses
(This is an abbreviated version of the official Ordinance language)
Violations shall be punishable by a fine of $100 for each day a violation exists and continues.
If any violation remains unabated after 10 days, authorized officials will issue a citation to the violator.
The final period for the uncontested payment of a citation shall be 30 days after the mailing or delivery of the citation.
Fines will continue to grow the longer the homeowner procrastinates: instead of a manageable $100 you could face $50,000; $175,000; or even $250,000 in fines — no joke.
If the property owner does not correct the violations the Zoning Enforcement Officer will file a certified copy of unpaid fines with the Clerk of the Superior Court. The judgment will be in the town’s favor.
The person against whom the judgment has been entered is entitled to judicial review in accordance with the provisions of CT General Statutes.
Why Is This News?
At any time, the town of Orange has about four blighted properties on the books.
For several years there was one resident whose name came up at nearly every Zoning Commission meeting for not just one, but multiple blighted properties and violations and extreme fines for repeatedly failing to fix the problems.
Some of your neighbors may have difficulty keeping up with others’ expectations of what “clean” is.
Heat and humidity can be unbearable for some people and cleaning up a messy or overgrown yard in the middle of summer without help is nearly impossible for these individuals.
There could be any number of reasons for their reluctance or inability to get it done. Health issues may cause the person to feel ill in certain types of weather. A limited income or joblessness could prevent them from being able to hire someone to mow the lawn or rake the leaves.
The stress of knowing that you are being fined for having a hayfield instead of a manicured lawn (but your lawnmower won’t start and you can’t afford to buy another one) causes your already high blood pressure to go above a safe level.
These are the people that you, as a neighbor, could reach out to and gently do a little investigating to find out why they won’t clean up their yards.
A little empathy goes a long way. Bring over your weed whacker if the old lady next door is kneeling down and using clippers to cut the grass around her mailbox in 90-degree weather.
Know the story before you call the zoning office to complain. You could make a new friend and you will feel good about yourself for doing something selfless for a stranger.
But on the other hand
Let’s face it, some people are just jerks. Able-bodied bullies may do little passive-aggressive things just to annoy you.
If their mess is bringing your property value down, or their actions are ruining your quality of life, then call the sanitarian or zoning official.
If they are truly threatening you, then it’s time to call the police, but having photographic or audio recordings of such abuse is the best way to prove your case so some sort of action can be taken.
Retaliation is not the course to take, abusive neighbors will just wait for you to fight back and that will give them carte blanche to up the ante on making your life a living hell. They’ll even call the police and complain about YOU.
Points to ponder
• To keep the town officials away, keep your property neat and clean.
• If you’re older and don’t have the means to fix a broken window or equipment to mow your lawn and trim the hedges, there is help that you may not know about.
Go to the High Plains Community Center and talk to Denise Stein in the Senior Services office and ask what, if any assistance is available.
Church groups, Scout Troops, or the Salvation Army may have money or programs geared toward helping those in situations such as yours.
• If your neighbor appears to be having trouble keeping up their property, see if you can do something to help before you call the health department or zoning office.
• Ignore nasty neighbors whenever possible. If they are truly abusive and doing something that you can prove, do not confront them on your own, call the police and file an official complaint (and ask for a copy so you have your own documentation in the event that you need to seek legal assistance).