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St. Joseph County Council passes ordinances establishing new code enforcement division

Jennifer Weingart
WVPE Public Radio

For the first time, residents of the unincorporated portions of St. Joseph County will be able to report code violations such as tall grass, junked cars or trash in yards after the County Council unanimously passed three ordinances establishing a new code enforcement division Tuesday night.

Multiple council members said that’s long overdue, and county commissioner Derek Dieter agreed.

“This has been an issue that you guys have kicked around for a long, long time, so finally we’re going to start it,” Dieter said.

Area planning commission executive director Abby Wiles said the ordinances went through an extensive public feedback process — the county held four meetings in January and February, and also collected comments online.

One outlines guidelines for “general public nuisances” such as trash, scrap metal or appliances. Compost piles are exempt, and wood piles will only be regulated in front yards.

Another governs tall grass, weeds and overgrown vegetation — also only in front yards — with anything taller than 9 inches being a violation.

“Elkhart County uses 8 inches, we chose 9 to be consistent with jurisdictions in St. Joseph County so there wasn’t any confusion,” Wiles said.

But after feedback from environmental groups, the ordinance also contains many exemptions including actively maintained and cultivated landscaping, agriculture, natural wooded areas, rain gardens, pollinators and other native plant gardens.

In both cases, property owners will be notified of any violations and given 10 days to fix the problems or to contact the county with a plan to do so. Otherwise, the county will move forward with cleanup and bill the owner.

The final ordinance handles abandoned vehicles. Once tagged, those could be removed within 72 hours. The owner would then have 20 days to claim the vehicle before it is disposed of, and they are charged for the associated costs.

And, Wiles said, enforcement will be complaint-based — they’re not going to be driving around looking for violations.

“This is by no means a moneymaker; this isn’t us coming out to cite you,” Wiles said. “The goal here is compliance.”

The abandoned vehicle ordinance has no fines, while the weed and public nuisance ordinances only introduce fines for repeat offenders. The first fine is $100, followed by $200 and $500.

The county’s 2022 budget set aside just under $330,000 to hire two new full-time code enforcement officers and pay for operating expenses like mowing, trash cleanup and vehicle towing and storage.

Enforcement of the new ordinances will begin April 1.

Contact Jakob at or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.