East Hills, a village known for its manicured lawns and expansive green park, and dubbed "the championship community" by residents, faced an unusual problem.
Several driveways and lawns harbored a variety of items, including "wheelbarrows, flowerpots, snow plows, bicycles, seeding equipment," said James Trotto, a village code enforcement officer.
Because of a loophole in its code, Mayor Michael Koblenz said, the village was powerless to require neighbors to tidy up their properties -- until now.
A new law, which was approved recently and carries hefty fines, aims to force some homeowners to clean up their act. It declares "outdoor storage constitutes a nuisance, an annoyance to owners and occupants of adjoining property and an unsightly condition affecting the public."
It bans the accumulation of a laundry list of materials outside -- and exclusive of a permitted structure: "machines, tools, lawn mowers, snowblowers, appliances." The law also sets a progressive fine schedule: $500 for the first violation; $1,000 for the next; and $2,500 for the third. For each day a violation is unattended to, officials can continue levying that fine.
The law "gives us the opportunity to issue summonses, if we have to," Koblenz said. "We have teeth in it now."
The village of roughly 7,000 has received nearly 20 complaints in the past year regarding the unsightly properties, according to Trotto, who said that previously, officials could regulate only boats, RVs and commercial equipment. But the code said nothing about "snowplows and every content of the garage being laid out onto the driveway."
Still for the village, where the median income is $191,000, the law is a last resort.
Officials say they are responding to residents' complaints, which convey a similar theme.
Trotto, paraphrasing residents alarmed at the amount of junk they saw in some of their neighbors' yards, said: "Why do they have to live around this, with the property taxes they pay? They shouldn't be looking at this. Company comes over and it looks like 'Sanford and Son.' "
The sights, one resident, Jerry Rauchwerger, said, clash with the expectation of "a clean and orderly neighborhood." He added: "It's certainly not normal. I don't know if it's normal for any suburb, certainly in East Hills."
Greta Rubin, a neighbor who has lived in the village for the past decade, said Tuesday: "Your home is your castle. You work very hard to have your home. You pay a lot of taxes."
She added, "You want to come to a place where you want to be."