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Property Maintenance and Unsightly Areas


The failure to maintain property directly impacts property values of adjacent property and, in the worst case, can provide an area that attracts criminal activities.

To protect a neighborhood from deterioration, a number of local governments have established property maintenance standards. There is a limit, however, on how far a jurisdiction may go in regulating unsightly areas on private property. It is an open question in this state whether our courts would uphold a beautification ordinance or a property maintenance or appearance code if the regulation is based purely upon aesthetic grounds. Some cities wrap a general nuisance ordinance in language that addresses property standards. The premise is that failure to provide minimum maintenance creates unsanitary and unsafe conditions, negatively impacts the aesthetic value of the community, and reduces property values.

Washington court cases, such as Lenci v. City of Seattle, 63 Wn.2d 664, 677-678 (1964), Polygon Corp. V. City of Seattle, 90 Wn.2d 59, 70 (1978), and Duckworth v. City of Bonney Lake, 91 Wn.2d 19, 30 (1978), indicate that municipal regulations may be based in part on aesthetic considerations. However, these cases suggest that there must also be public health, safety, or welfare issues present in order to justify a municipal regulation under the police power.

Local governments considering property standards need to work with legal counsel to make sure that the necessary procedural requirements are included in any public nuisance or property maintenance ordinance and that staff responsible for enforcement receive the necessary training.

Programs to Clean Up Property

  • Longview NEAT Program – The Neighborhood Excellence Action Team (NEAT) program is a partnership between the City and neighborhoods. Neighborhood volunteers plan and run a cleanup event and the City provides free drop boxes for the disposal of excess trash, bulky waste, and yard debris.
  • Marysville Community Beautification Program – Provides grant funding to neighborhoods, community groups, and local businesses that want to work together to beautify their neighborhood or other areas of the community.
  • Seattle Public Utilities Programs
    • Adopt-a-Street – Volunteer program to promote civic responsibility and community pride by helping cleanup litter and graffiti in city streets.
    • Graffiti Prevention & Removal – Information on the City's Graffiti Nuisance Ordinance, which requires property owners to remove graffiti in a timely manner. Includes information on reporting and removing graffiti, and making property graffiti-resistent.
    • Spring Clean – Volunteer city-wide clean-up event held in April and May through an SPU partnership with Parks and Recreation, Department of Neighborhoods, and Department of Transportation.
  • Tacoma
    • Adopt-a-Spot and Neighborhood Litter Patrol – A year-round partnership between the City and neighborhood groups, businesses and residents to help reduce litter and keep public spaces clean.
    • Community Cleanups – Program providing one cleanup opportunity per year to each neighborhood. Neighborhood volunteers and residents come together to take trash out of their neighborhood. City provides dumpsters to designated sites on cleanup day.
    • Graffiti Rapid Removal Program – Partnership with Goodbye Graffiti to provide removal services along key corridors in the city at no cost to the property owner. The program is intended to act as an additional tool for property owners and does not replace the Code Compliance process.
  • Vancouver Sparkles Award – A program that recognizes neighbors who go the extra mile to make their neighborhood special

Property Maintenance Ordinance Provisions

Common Issues

In addition to the items listed below, see also the MRSC pages on: Chronic Nuisance Properties, Graffiti Control and Regulation, Building Nuisances, and Weeds and Other Nuisance Vegetation

Accumulation of Trash, Machinery and Junk

Storage of Miscellaneous Items, Including Cargo Containers

Provisions related to outdoor storage of items on property vary in terms of time, purpose, and whether or not the items stored are in public view. Similar provisions appear in both highly urban and more rural settings.

Last Modified: June 10, 2020