Thursday, October 15, 2009

City aims to clean ‘garbage houses’

Apple Valley officials drafting ordinance to abate unsanitary conditions

by Jessica Harper

From time to time, Apple Valley city officials run into extreme cases of hoarding and unsanitary living conditions.

In many cases, a concerned citizen calls police to check on the person’s welfare and police find uninhabitable conditions.

From there, Dakota County Social Services and Environmental Health become involved, but it can take 90 to 120 days before the conditions are abated, Apple Valley Community Development Director Bruce Nordquist said.

It’s a problem that the city runs into about a half dozen times a year, Nordquist said.

“We do well up to a point, but sometimes unseen conditions get away from us,” he said.

Now, city officials are working on a new ordinance to better address the social issue often referred to as “garbage houses.”

“We definitely don’t want to be the clean police,” said Sgt. John Bermel, who oversees housing and neighborhood issues for the Apple Valley Police Department. “But we just want to find a tool to help with these extreme cases.”

The ordinance would likely define garbage houses similarly to the League of Minnesota Cities, which has a Dangerous Properties document that defines a garbage house as a home that has the following conditions: accumulation of garbage, furniture, debris, litter or other items that hinder the ability to move freely in the house or open doors; significant accumulation of human or animal fecal matter or other waste; and significant rodent or insect infestation.

These conditions not only threaten the health of the person living in the home, but also those nearby, Nordquist said.

Currently, the city has codes that requires abatement for outdoor nuisances such as weeds, grass, animal carcasses, furniture and junk vehicles..." More