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West Fargo's first code enforcement officer handles ordinance violations

From Jan. 20 to Dec. 7, the West Fargo Code Enforcement office received 413 complaints, with the majority of them coming in June through October. He responded to 129 tall grass and weed complaints; 57 parking issues; 42 snow related complaints, and 10 garbage or rubbish complaints as well as 10 fencing complaints.

Travis Johnson.jpg

WEST FARGO — Is the lawn next door an overgrown eyesore, or is there a car that hasn't moved from the street in three weeks? Or perhaps you've seen your neighbor pushing all their snow into the street, a violation of West Fargo ordinances. You don't feel this is a police matter, but you'd like the city to know these violations are happening.

That's where Travis Johnson, the city of West Fargo's first code enforcement officer, comes in.

Johnson investigates neighborhood complaints of code violations stemming from neighborhood nuisances and dangerous buildings. He also handles vacant building registrations and health code issues not under direction of the Fargo Cass Public Health Department.

Although he is not part of the West Fargo Police Department, Johnson works closely with the department and came to the position after working as a police officer in Valley City. He also serves in the North Dakota National Guard.

"Until I really started this position, I don’t know if I could have told you what code enforcement truly was or what it all entailed," Johnson said. “Basically, I perform inspections concerning violations of local ordinances and codes. As of right now, it’s often driven by a complaint. Once there is a complaint, I will work to confirm and notify (property owners) of a violation."

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Earlier this month, Johnson presented the City Commission with a roundup of the complaints he has received since starting the position in late January.

From Jan. 20 to Dec. 7, he received 413 complaints, with the majority of them coming in June through October. He responded to 129 tall grass and weed complaints, 57 parking issues, 42 snow-related complaints and 10 garbage or rubbish complaints as well as 10 fencing complaints. During that time, Johnson also followed up on 3,478 previous cases.

He also received a handful of complaints relating to illegal storage of junk, signs, buildings, complaints from contractors, animal waste, noise complaints and sump pumps.

Johnson first verifies a code violation is in effect and then works to notify the property owner of the situation and allows for them to remedy the situation. However, if the property is not brought to code, property owners may face a fine or other punishment defined by city ordinances.

If one of the most popular complaints, tall grass or weeds, is found, property owners have seven days to mow or abate the property. If they do nothing, the city hires a contractor to abate the property, which can then result in a charge for the work as well as a $75 fee to the property owner.

Johnson does not have the authority to issue citations at this time.

Confirming a code violation is not always a clear process. For example, in a complaint of a vehicle continuously parked on the grass, the property owners have 30 days to remedy the situation, but the vehicle can be moved and re-parked, which would "reset the clock," Johnson said.

Johnson asked the commission to give clear direction for his office to offer flexibility as well as swift action. Johnson tries to work with property owners to take into consideration potential circumstances that may be contributing to the violation. For example, an elderly person who can no longer remove snow from their home may need additional time to find help and clear off their sidewalks.

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He told commissioners he is also trying to move his newly created department toward being proactive instead of reactive, meaning he is on the lookout for code violations rather than issues being complaint driven.

"One thing I don’t like about it being complaint driven is we are pushing neighbors to … tattling on their neighbor," Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said. "I feel like being a complaint-driven system, we’re putting a lot of people in a weird position."

Johnson said at this time he is handling the amount of complaints his office receives, but if the commission decided to add additional employees to the department, just one would be sufficient to handle the current amount of complaints.

How to make a complaint with the code enforcement office:

You will be asked to:

  • Provide specific location, if possible.
  • Be detailed regarding violation of city ordinance.
  • Do not submit complaints anonymously. At a minimum, provide a name and phone number or email to contact if there are any questions. The office does not relay names of those who file a complaint to homeowners under investigation.

If the complaint received is related to another department or agency, it will be referred.
For more information about the West Fargo Code Enforcement office, visit https://www.westfargond.gov/256/Code-Enforcement.

Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum.
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