Residents along East McVicar Avenue in North Kingman finally got some relief. After more than a year's work, crews from the Mohave County Environmental Health Division were able to get a court order to clean up and place a lien against a property.
"We received a complaint concerning that property on April 19, 2006," said Rachel Patterson, manager of the division.
The complaint was for the accumulation of raw sewage and trash on the property.
On April 20, the division did an initial inspection and on April 21 a notice was sent to the tenants on the property to clean up the sewage problem. Water to the property was shut off. The tenants had the septic tank pumped, but water to the property remained shut off because the septic system was failing.
On May 15, the county sent another notice ordering the clean up of trash on the property.
"I was dealing with the renters," said Greg Guindon, the county health inspector handling the issue. "The renters were fairly compliant but evasive."
Guindon said he went back and forth to the property several times. Each time the tenants would promise to clean up the property, but they continued to live there without water and piled up more garbage.
"I went back there to confront them about their lack of compliance and found out they had moved," Guindon said.
"We worked with the sort-of-compliant tenants for quite some time," Patterson said. "Then they abandoned the property and tracking down the owners became a problem. That's why this situation took so long."
The County Attorney's Office attempted several times to contact the property owner. The property owner is ultimately responsible for the property, Guindon said.
Court date set
The County Attorney's Office finally had to contact the owner by publication. A court date was set for September, but the owner didn't show. The court awarded the county an order to place a lien against the property for the cleanup and for $750 in civil penalties.
Very few complaints end up in court, Guindon said.
"Most people are compliant," he said. "Some folks live on small lots and accumulate things. Some are hoarders. Often, economic factors will lead someone to not paying for trash collections. When garbage piles up, a health hazard is created and we become involved."
The trash was removed from the property in November and the lien was placed on the property on Dec. 18 to repay the cost for cleanup, Patterson said.
The department uses a revolving fund program to handle property cleanups like this, she said. The department is budgeted a certain amount of money each year for cleanups by the Board of Supervisors. This year it was $20,000.
The money is used to hire contractors to help clean up the mess and then repaid to the fund when the lien against the property is paid. The cleanup of the McVicar Avenue property cost around $1,900.
This is the fourth cleanup Environmental Health has handled this year.
The department inspectors do not drive the streets looking for trashy properties.
"We are complaint-driven," Guindon said. "The calls come to our office and I verify them. Often, the owners pony up right away and solve the problems."
Environmental Health handles complaints related to specific health threats such as garbage, sewage and other materials that will bring rats, feral cats and flies.
The Planning and Zoning Department handles complaints involving dumped materials that are not a health threat such as construction materials.
The Mohave County Environmental Rural Area Cleanup Enforcement department has also been a help by putting out Dumpsters to help low income and elderly residents.
"We will work with people, but we can be very hard on them," Patterson said. "When we get a complaint, we inspect the property. If the complaint is valid, we issue a notice of violation giving 15 days to clean up the problem. If they don't, we issue a compliance order and that's when we post civil penalties."
Civil penalties can go as high as $1,000 a day for 10 days, she said.
Guindon often sends photos of messy properties to out-of-state property owners. Many times he receives a shocked phone call from the property owner, who then takes care of the situation.
Sometimes he doesn't receive a return call or any correspondence from the property owner. It is usually these cases that end up in court.