We're encouraged by the city of Pueblo's more aggressive efforts on code enforcement. Hopefully, property owners who neglect trash, weeds, junk cars and building safety are getting the message: It's time for you to clean up your act once and for all. Puebloans are no longer willing to look the other way.
According to a recent report by Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad, the number of court summons issued by the police department's code enforcement unit more than tripled last year. Through November, there were 1,984 court summons issued, up from the 603 issued for the same 11-month period in 2017.
Part of the increase came from a simple change in the city's approach to chronic violators, Azad said. Code enforcement officers now are encouraged to issue a court summons instead of a "notice of violation."
A summons is an order to appear before a municipal court judge to answer for a suspected violation.
A "notice of violation" gives suspected violators 10 days to fix a problem and also frees them from going to court. Many violators would wait and "then the last minute clean-up and then, here we go again a month later, they get another notice of violation," Azad said. We bet slumlords along with absentee property owners who live in other cities and states were particularly fond of that approach.
Kudos to the hard-working code enforcement officers for their efforts.
Another reason for the increase in court filings is Pueblo City Council's decision in March 2018 to require residents to either prove they have trash service or show they get rid of their trash on a regular basis, Azad said. The new law followed years of contentious debate over more complex proposals.
It's frustrating the city's crackdown on trash, weeds and unsafe properties wasn't started years ago.
And "crackdown" may not be the right term. Most of the laws governing code violations have been on the books for years. The same goes for the tools available to the city, police and courts to enforce them. Apparently, all that has been lacking was the willingness to use them.
Not only was the old way not working but it wasn’t cost-effective for the city, police department and municipal court. A robust enforcement program should generate enough revenue from fines to pay for itself.
We’re also happy local government’s more aggressive approach isn't limited to residential property owners. In June, Azad very publicly threatened to condemn and close the Valu U Stay Inn and Suites in Belmont, declaring conditions at the aged budget motel "unsafe and borderline deplorable." The owner moved quickly to make repairs.
Responsible landlords also are speaking out. The Southern Colorado Residential Rental Association, made up of many of the area’s rental owners and managers, recently highlighted its members’ use of best practices in the industry. It called on nonmember landlords to get on board.
The courts are focused on the issue. Court-ordered property clean-ups and repairs are on the rise, according to Azad's report. The Pueblo City/County Health Department, the Regional Building Department and various other local agencies also continue to assist in what has truly become a communitywide initiative.
We don't really know if problem properties are more common in Pueblo than any other city, but there's no reason our community can't strive to be the one that the other cities envy. However, we're just fooling ourselves if we can't even take the simple step of enforcing the laws that already are on the books to the fullest extent.
Here's hoping local government stays the course. Enforcing property health, safety and nuisance laws isn't an encroachment on anyone's property rights. Not enforcing them does a disservice to the vast majority of property owners who don't have to be told to clean up after themselves.
We urge local government to also lead by example by keeping parks, roadway medians and other public property clear of weeds and trash.