Nuisance ordinances have been discussed in Backus, Pine River, Emily, Crosslake and virtually all of our communities to one degree or another over the past year.
Pine River alone is in the process of deciding what to do about a nuisance ordinance violation by a property owner prone to piling up junk. The city has brought legal action against the property owner once before and it was a costly endeavor for all involved.
It is often asked, who gave the city the right to say you can’t pile up trash in your yard?
When considering nuisance ordinances it is easy to get up in arms over the idea of government control over the rights of a property owner. It’s true that you should have liberty over your own belongings, but most nuisance ordinances deal with issues that tend to spill over from one person’s property and into another.
In the case of nuisances to health and safety, this is a big deal.
A yard full of trash, old machinery and junk poses a multitude of problems to various people, the owner included. Such yards have a plethora of food, shelter and habitat for a variety of pests, including wasps, mosquitoes, rodents and skunks. Some of these pests will die during winter and some will look for a warmer home when the snow blows in — specifically, your home, garage, outbuilding or anywhere else they can find refuge.
Just last year the Backus Fire Department responded to a home for a reported gas leak, only to find that a skunk had been living under the home’s crawl space and had gotten spooked. Good luck getting that smell out of your furniture.
Worse yet is that the potential problems have a risk of spilling over into the neighborhood. If you have a pile of garbage drawing mice to your home, you have nobody to blame but yourself. However, a colony of mice would be just as happy invading an innocent neighbor’s home; all they need is an entry point.
In addition to pests, nuisance ordinances for health and safety are designed to protect children in the neighborhood, local water tables and emergency response crews. If your house is on fire and you have so much junk piled in front of your doors that the fire crew cannot get safely in and out, then you had better have good insurance because your home might not be safe enough for a fire crew to even enter.
Your local fire department will likely check to make sure you made it out and then set up hoses to make sure the fire doesn’t spread to your neighbor’s home while all your belongings are turned to ash.
Sharp metal in your yard presents obvious dangers of tetanus and blood poisoning, and open drum type containers are serious drowning risks. Old dryers, washing machines and automobile trunks all pose serious risks to curious kids.
Remember the toddler in Wisconsin who died in the trunk of a car while rescue crews were searching for him?
These items should never be left to pile up in your yard. Even if you don’t have children, you should take your neighbors into consideration. Your yard may be private property, but that would be little comfort if a curious child ended up seriously hurt or worse in your yard.
Don’t forget that pets are not immune to drownings and poisonings. Open containers of water or antifreeze from a recently flushed radiator pose a risk to them.
Overall, nuisance ordinances deal with many aspects, including morals and peace, but enforcement is difficult even in cases of risks to health or safety.
In all honesty, for the sake of pride and responsibility, enforcement shouldn’t be an issue where safety is concerned. Disposal at local transfer stations isn’t very expensive. If you have metal you might even make money.
In addition, some cities even have citywide cleanup days and there are local charities that will help you clean your yard if you are unable.
These are just some of the issues you should be aware of if you or a neighbor has a tendency to let things pile up over time. Unfortunately, it’s not as innocent as it seems and nobody lives in a vacuum.