Tires on the side of a street in Wichita
The city of Wichita’s Neighborhood Inspections division fields complaints about bulky waste, tall grass, housing code violations and more in residential areas. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

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From a lawn with grass 12 inches too high to vacant homes with broken windows, the city of Wichita’s Neighborhood Inspections division takes complaints about major and minor neighborhood nuisances.

For some residents, what appear to be minor code violations can hint at more serious issues. Aujanae Bennett, president of the neighborhood association in Northeast Millair, pointed out a broken window at a home on a drive through the neighborhood.

“It allows for vandalism,” she said. 

But how do the 10,000 to 12,000 complaints the city receives a year turn into action? The answer can range from a simple notice by mail to a jail sentence. 

The Wichita Beacon breaks down the city’s process for citing nuisance code violations and what residents should know if they get cited. 

What is a neighborhood nuisance?

How to submit a complaint about neighborhood nuisances

What happens when the city receives a complaint? 

What are the options if you receive a notice of code violation?

What happens if you don’t fix a nuisance code violation?

What if you can’t afford to fix a nuisance code violation?

Are tenants or property owners responsible for nuisance code violations? 

Bulky residential waste is one type of code violation that the Neighborhood Inspections division handles regularly. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

What is a neighborhood nuisance?

Mattresses in the front yard for more than seven days. Inoperable vehicles left outside for more than two days. Exterior walls on a home that are deteriorating or rotting. 

To find a full list of what could be considered a violation in Wichita, see the city’s municipal code. KaLyn Nethercot, the neighborhood inspection administrator for the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department (MABCD), said that the Neighborhood Inspections division typically deals with health code violations, general nuisances and housing infractions.

The Neighborhood Inspections division deals with residential properties and not commercial buildings. While the Neighborhood Inspections division operates under the MABCD, a countywide agency, the division only oversees the city of Wichita.

How to submit a complaint about neighborhood nuisances

The MABCD operates an open portal for anyone to submit complaints, by name or anonymously. Neighborhood nuisance complaints can fall under categories including zoning and sign complaints, building code violations and vehicle issues.

Using the portal, residents can also see if there’s already a complaint or ongoing nuisance case for a property. 

Residents can also call 316-660-9220.

The Neighborhood Inspections unit is mostly complaint-based, Nethercot said.  

What happens when the city receives a complaint? 

Each complaint is assigned to a neighborhood inspector based on where it’s located. The city employs 15 inspectors, each of whom oversees different parts of the city. To find your neighborhood inspector, visit Wichita’s GIS portal.

Once the city receives a complaint, an inspector typically visits the location within 72 hours, Nethercot said. Higher priority issues may be addressed within 24 hours while lower priority issues may be addressed within 30 days, according to the Neighborhood Inspection Complaint Triage Protocol.

If the inspector finds evidence of a violation, they issue a notice by mail to the homeowner. Typically, this gives the owner between three and 90 days to address the issue, according to the triage protocol

“The inspectors will go out and do a recheck inspection,” Nethercot said. “If there’s suitable progress, they can give an extension. Hopefully by that point in time, we’ve had some communication with the owner.”

What are the options if you receive a notice of code violation?

Homeowners may receive extensions beyond the initial period of compliance. This typically occurs if the homeowner shows progress on the cleanup or if neighborhood inspectors have not been able to contact the homeowner, according to Nethercot. 

According to city code, homeowners can ask for an informal hearing with the Neighborhood Inspections division 10 days after they receive a violation notice to request that it be changed or withdrawn.

Appeals like this are rare, though, Nethercot said.

“We have pictures,” Nethercot said. “We’re going to document with photos the concerns. So the appeal that you’re reading about, they would have to show that they were aggrieved by even receiving the notice, which they’re not.”

What happens if you don’t fix a nuisance code violation?

If a property has been given extensions without progress, the city has several ways to move forward, Nethercot said. The next step usually depends on how much communication inspectors have with homeowners.

“If it’s obvious we have got a deceased or out of state owner, we’re probably going to go ahead and move that straight into a nuisance abatement status,” Nethercot said. 

Nuisance abatement means that the city pays to clean up the property. The cost of the cleanup is billed to the homeowner to be paid in 30 days. If it’s not paid, a special assessment tax is levied against the property for the cleanup cost. 

But, “in the instance of local owners, we will take them to court,” Nethercot said. 

The penalties for code violations vary based on the type. According to municipal code, failing to get rid of bulky waste can lead to a $500 fine, jail for up to six months or both. If a homeowner is found guilty of violating the nuisance code, they may face a fine of up to $1,000, up to 12 months in jail, or both.

Jail time for nuisance violations is rare, according to city spokesperson Megan Lovely.

What if you can’t afford to fix a nuisance code violation?

The Neighborhood Inspections division operates a code enforcement liaison program, which connects residents in need with volunteers who can help with cleanup or resources like dumpsters or lawnmowers. 

Residents are referred to the program, based on need, by neighborhood inspectors or judges after appearing in court.

“What I have to be careful with sometimes with different neighborhood associations and things like that, they want to publicize that code enforcement liaison program, and we beg them not to,” Nethercot said. “Because it’s referral-based. It’s got to be people who really just don’t have any money to help themselves.”

Neighbors Indeed, a new local nonprofit, also aims to help homeowners by providing volunteers to assist with property cleanups. 

“Our first priority goes to people with court dates looming,” said Richard Ruth, founder of Neighbors Indeed. 

Ruth said the organization’s capacity to help is limited by minimal funding. But he hopes to grow with more grants. Ruth also recommended residents in need of help cleaning up their property reach out to their community service representative. Each City Council district has one

Contact Neighbors Indeed at help@neighborsindeedinc.org.

Are tenants or property owners responsible for nuisance code violations? 

That’s a gray area, Nethercot said. 

“Sometimes tenants are responsible for nuisance conditions, but generally when it comes right down to it, the property owner is the responsible party,” she said. 

If a tenant has concerns about the code compliance of the interior of their home, they can file a complaint through the nuisance complaint portal. 

Kansas Legal Services can provide advice on tenant rights.

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Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.