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Shabby Chic Yard or Public Nuisance? How Texas Cities Can Cover Costs of Weed Abatement

Most Texans take pride in keeping their home looking good, maintaining a well-kept lawn, and preventing junk from piling up in their yard. Of course, there are always those who don’t seem to mind having waist-high weeds or an old junked vehicle sitting on their front lawn.

For the neighborhood and the community as a whole, these unsightly annoyances can be very irritating. They can destroy the general aesthetics of a neighborhood, drive down property values, or even create hazardous conditions. At a certain point, such situations can rise to the level of a public nuisance.

Cities understandably want to keep their communities looking good and their residents happy. Part of this effort lies in preventing nuisances from surfacing and persisting. After all, no one wants to live next door to the neglected house with overgrown weeds or a rodent infestation.

Under Texas law, the governing body of a municipality can require real property owners in the municipality to keep their property free from weeds, brush, and conditions constituting a “public nuisance.” See Texas Health and Safety Code Sec. 342.004.

Many Texas cities have ordinances on the books which require property owners to keep their land free from nuisances. While there are multiple types and varying degrees of public nuisances, one of the most common nuisances facing cities is overgrown weeds. Aside from being unsightly, overgrown weeds can harbor pests and rodents.

Many cities have ordinances which allow the city to issue a citation to a property owner who is in violation. But what happens when a violating property owner can’t be found, or simply refuses to keep the property clean even after being fined?

Fortunately, there are steps cities can take to abate such persistent nuisances. Under Texas law, a city can give the property owner notice of the ordinance violation and give the property owner 7 days to remedy the problem. If the property owner fails to remedy the violation, the city can step in and perform the work, such as mowing overgrown weeds. Id. at Sec. 342.006.

This takes care of the nuisance (for now), but who pays for the work? Sure, a city can send the mowing bill to a homeowner for the work performed; but what if the homeowner doesn’t pay?

Unfortunately, this is a situation which does arise. In September of 2018, the Beaumont City Council voted to write-off over $100,000 in “Weed Abatement Charges.”

These charges were sent to collection agencies but eventually seen as uncollectible. In many instances, however, there’s no reason for the city to be left holding the bill. In fact, so long as cities follow the notice provisions prior to abating the nuisance, they can often assert a lien against the offending property owner.

Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, a municipality may assess a lien against the property to cover the costs incurred abating certain types of nuisances. The city can then assert a lien for the expenses incurred in abating the nuisance and interest at a rate of 10% on such expenses.

The city’s lien is inferior only to tax liens and liens for street improvements. This ensures that the city is reimbursed when the property is sold. In fact, a city can even bring a suit for foreclosure in order to recover the expenditures and interest due. Id. at Sec. 342.007.

It’s important for municipalities to understand and enforce their nuisance ordinances and utilize the tools available to them under state law. That way, municipalities can keep the community clean without being left picking up the tab.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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