Sussex County targets junk vehicles with new lot maintenance ordinance

Georgetown, Del., May 6, 2008: Sussex County is taking out the trash on junk vehicles.

Sussex County Council, at its Tuesday, May 6, 2008, meeting, approved a new lot maintenance ordinance that cleans up an out-of-date section of County Code and sets new standards governing the appearance of residential properties.

The ordinance spells out the County’s regulatory authority when it comes to property maintenance, specifically setting limits on the number of junk cars and/or boats residential properties can contain. The measure takes effect immediately.

“This update to our code really is about helping keep our landscape clean, presentable, and, most importantly, safe,” said Deputy County Administrator Harold F. Godwin, who helped craft the ordinance introduced last year. “Lots that are littered with junk cars and boats project a poor image of our county, and they can threaten the safety and welfare of our residents. What we’re trying to do is put into place new standards that keep communities safe and healthy, while recognizing individual property rights.”

Specifically, the new ordinance will restrict to two the number of unregistered or inoperable vehicles and boats allowed outside residential properties countywide. It does not affect antique vehicles or vehicles stored in buildings, nor does it prohibit the total number of vehicles allowed. It only applies to those vehicles and boats that are without registration or non-working.

Additionally, the ordinance charges the Planning & Zoning and Constable’s offices with governing and pursuing complaints against properties with junk vehicles, as well as establishes new fines. Violators could be given up to six months to comply with the code if issued a citation. For those who fail to comply, minimum fines would be set at $250 for the first conviction, $500 for the second conviction, $750 for the third conviction and $2,500 for all subsequent convictions.

The ordinance also calls for an appeals process for those cited, and allows cases of financial hardship to be reviewed by County officials.

The code amendment, which replaces a weaker section of code that gave authority to the now-defunct Transfer Station Division, applies in residential and commercial settings. Active farms of 5 acres or more are exempt.

County Council Vice President Lynn J. Rogers said the ordinance is not intended to police how residents and property owners live their lives. It is about establishing basic standards for how properties should be maintained so other property owners are not subjected to eyesores and potential health hazards.

“We don’t want rodents and wildlife living in these junk cars, because they can pose a threat to our residents, particularly children,” Councilman Rogers said. “This is something that has been in need of updating for quite some time, especially as the county’s landscape and population change.

“Hopefully this will clean up the county and protect the quality of life that so many of us enjoy,” Mr. Rogers added.