Austin considers citing property owners for plants that block sidewalks

Local News

AUSTIN (KXAN) – They say, “leaves of three, let it be.”

If that’s true, then no one is walking on the sidewalk along a stretch of South 1st Street, where poison ivy and other plants drape over.

Michele Solberg often runs in the area but says she’s more concerned about the people who walk to get to the bus stop each day.

In fact, we saw a man avoid the sidewalk jungle Tuesday and run across the busy road.

“If you’re unable to use sidewalks because they’re impassable, how is that setting up a healthy community?” asked Solberg. 

This stretch is also where Austin police often watch for speeders.

“They’re hugging the curb and it’s dangerous,” she said.

Solberg says she’s made nearly a dozen complaints.

The city tells KXAN the property is privately owned, but staff said they were looking into the issue.

Possible Fines, Fees or Citations for Homeowners

At a recent meeting, Austin Public Works staff noted that 40 percent of the city’s existing sidewalk segments had obstructions, from trees or other plants.

Austin requires property owners to trim back their plants so they don’t hang over or obstruct the sidewalk. Trees and larger plants must be at least 8 feet above the sidewalk.

However, Public Works currently has no legal authority to impose fines.

Instead, they often issue door hangers to property owners, notifying them what their responsibilities are.

The city then may follow with a certified letter asking the property owner to remove the obstruction, noting that the City may remove the obstruction on its own.

Now, possible changes to the city’s code would give employees the authority to issue citations or charge fees to property owners who don’t trim their plants.

Staff believes these changes could be approved by the end of 2019.

KXAN asked Austin Public Works about the possible changes, and a spokesperson sent us this statement:

“As the audit noted, we are in very early stages of determining if potential code changes could be made that provide a mechanism for enforcement of the code. HOWEVER, we want to be sensitive to all aspects that come with such enforcement, while also considering our residents’ ability—both physically and financially—to keep these areas maintained. In addition, the more property owners understand their responsibilities, we believe the more compliant they will be on their own. In short, any code changes are still a work in progress and outreach continues.” 

It’s worth noting that Austin’s Code Enforcement Department does respond to reports of tall grass and weeds on private property, and takes steps to enforce those violations per the City’s Code. 

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