A recent change in the ordinance gives code-enforcement officers power to write citations on the spot. It alleviates a cumbersome paper trail that has long stymied Tupelo's efforts to crack down on blight.
Under the old method, code-enforcement officers could give only warnings to residents violating the property code. If owners didn't remedy the situation, code-enforcement officers had to go to municipal court and sign an affidavit. The court then issued the citation along with a hearing date.
"It could take weeks to go through all that," said code-enforcement officer Debra Byrd. "We have been so backed up that we probably haven't had any citations issued in the last couple months."
But the new ordinance allows code-enforcement officers to issue citations immediately upon seeing an infraction. Property owners still will have 10 days to comply, but they'll have to go to court to prove it.
City leaders say it will strengthen a recent push to clean up neighborhoods and make Tupelo a nicer place to live. In July, the Development Services Department launched a code-enforcement blitz that reassigned most of its staff to patrol for property violations.
But the effort needed more teeth, said Development Services Director BJ Teal, who put the issue before the City Council on Tuesday.
"Because of our aggressive code enforcement," Teal told the council, "we'd like to use the municipal code ... so code-enforcement officers would have police power to issue citations for nuisance issues."
Council members unanimously approved the change, which goes into effect Feb. 16.
Among the most frequent problems include junk vehicles, unkempt grass, parking cars on lawns, using the front porch or carport for storage, and the general deterioration of property that's visible from the street.
On Friday, Byrd said she was targeting a Maynard Street resident who continued to park his car in the yard. She had to go through municipal court to issue the citation but looked forward to being able to do it herself.
The resident, Mike Ball, told the Daily Journal he felt the citation was unwarranted but understood that "it's the rules." He said a neighbor likely complained and that he was moving his car.
Inspectors won't enter properties unless they receive a specific complaint or unless it's part of the ongoing rental license program.
Property owners who cannot financially remedy their code infractions can request help from the city. Teal said Tupelo has funds through its SNAP grant program to help qualified people obtain money for various repairs.