Winston-Salem residents: Mow your lawns or pay a hefty fee

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- If you say the word eyesore, pertaining to a neighborhood, chances are overgrown lawns would be one of the first things which came to mind. Unfortunately for thousands of people in Winston-Salem, that eyesore is something they deal with every day.

“This is a nice neighborhood. Then you have this yard sitting up there, grass all high and it makes the rest of us look bad,” said Freda Manns, whose neighbor’s yard has been overgrown almost all year.

If the city issues three notices for lawns which are not in compliance -- with grass at heights eight inches or higher -- they place the owner on what they call a “chronic violator” list. If the following calendar year rolls around and the lawn still isn’t cut to proper height, the city is going to cut the lawn for them. But, it’s not free.

“It’s all over the city,” said Bruce Bailiff, with Winston-Salem code enforcement. “It’s not just one section of the city.”

Currently, there are 538 different properties listed as “chronic violators” in the city of Winston-Salem. The city monitors the properties and every time they can get out to a lawn which is not in compliance, they cut it.

“This year, all the moisture we’ve had, the grass is growing really fast,” Bailiff said.

If the city cuts your lawn, and it takes less than an hour, they’re going to bill the owner $380.

“That’s $165 for the cut itself, there’s a $50 administrative fee, and a $165 penalty. The penalty is there to encourage compliance,” Bailiff clarified.

However, if the property takes over an hour to cut, that fee jumps to $545 -- including the penalty and administrative fee.

The city’s revenue department says they usually collect between 60-70 percent of the bills. However, if they’re not paid, the fees are tacked on to the owner’s tax bill. If it’s still not paid, the city engages debt collection agencies. If that doesn’t do the trick, the city will utilize North Carolina’s debt setoff program; meaning the fees will come out of the owner’s tax refund. Lastly, if the fees still aren’t collected -- and you try to sell the property -- the city will make you pay them before they give you a clean title.

“We’re gonna get paid, the only question is maybe when we’re gonna get paid,” Bailiff said.

Once being put on the chronic violator list, the owner must maintain the property for the entire following calendar year to be removed.