For rowdier student neighborhoods, tailgate season means trash citation season. Though the number of violations decreased this year compared to last year, students and landlords have been irked by the fine print of the city’s trash code.
While trash citations during during August and September decreased,from 93 citations in 2007 to 84 in 2008, residents are increasingly vocal about the citations, accusing Ann Arbor’s litter, solid waste and nuisance laws to be nonsensical.
LSA senior Daniel Chiego recalls this year’s football game against Utah with frustration. And it’s not because Michigan lost.
“Our first trash ticket that we incurred was a thousand dollars, no questions asked,” said Chiego, who lives on the 800 block of East University Avenue. “I really don’t feel that that makes any sense, and it’s unfair to students.”
Chiego’s first citation was so severe because the city keeps track of violations by the property, not the individual. The citation amount, then, increases per each citation made on a property, not its renters. That means students who move in after messy tenants could be given more expensive tickets, even for a first violation.
Regardless of who lives at the property, prices for penalties continue to increase until a residence stays ticket-free for two consecutive years. Tickets for a trashy yard start at $100, increase to between $250 and $500 for the second, and jump as high as $1,000 for each additional violation.
During her rounds last Thursday afternoon, Community Standards Officer Jodi Dyer said officers working tailgate neighborhoods begin ticketing as soon as the game starts because parties in those areas tend to get out of control.
“We don’t really have a lot of tolerance for it,” she said.
Tempers have flared recently over repeat citations and the city’s trash codes.
Last month, another resident of East University Avenue’s 800 block was charged for assault after shouting in a community standards officer’s face and poking him in the chest as he was writing a citation for tailgate litter.
“Sometimes people are being punished for the previous residents’ problems, but that’s not something we can control,” Dyer said. “It’s the ordinance.”
Keith Williams, a representative from Metro City Properties, said the trash code has been “absolutely a problem” for his company because it holds property owners responsible for tenants’ activities.
“It’s very hard to get the individual residents to accept responsibilities,” he said. “I’m forced to act as a collection agent for the city.”
Metro City Properties owns twelve properties near Central Campus, and has gone to court three times this year to fight tickets that were written during football games.
“The first year we experienced it, they would literally go by a few minutes after the game started, take a picture, write a citation,” he said. “We’ve actually had to become proactive and send people out on overtime to clean up during the game times.”
LSA senior Katie Wohl said she was sitting with her roommates on their porch at 809 E. University Ave. after a home football game when someone started to clean their yard for them.
“They said they were doing it because the city was cracking down on violations and they didn’t want to get a fine,” she said.
Wohl echoed the concerns of many students who, tailgating or not, have their yards turned into trash receptacles by half-drunk passersby.
“The street is so busy,” she said. “People just walk by and throw stuff.”
Problem areas like Church Street and East University and Oakland Avenues are almost guaranteed the brunt of community standards protocol: if one messy house is called in or noticed by an officer, that officer is required to patrol the entire block and ticket accordingly.
“Most of our notices and tickets are complaint-driven,” Dyer said. “So if you neighbors are pigs, we’re going to be around a lot, too.”
In September, Community Standards received 202 calls about garbage. In August there were 187.
Officers usually issue warnings to first-time offenders, so residents who clean within 24 hours can avoid a fine. It’s during football games that things get busier, procedure gets more stringent and officers need to skip the warning step.
“A lot of the problem is that the stuff ends up in the street, or these parties start spilling in the sidewalk and the street,” she said. “Then it becomes a city problem.”
While on patrol last Thursday, Dyer drove down McKinley Avenue to follow up on a warning she had given the Saturday before. Spotting two snow-covered mattresses still propped up against a tree, she reached for citation forms.
Judging from her four years on the job, Dyer said many students don’t clean up after themselves — even if given a warning.
“I tell people, if you didn’t have time to clean it up, or you needed an extension, you should have called the phone number,” she said, pointing to the number for Community Standards at the top of a warning ticket. “I can’t help you if you can’t help yourself.”