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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

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

  • Leavenworth Municipal Code Ch. 8.41 - Junk, Garbage and Debris on Private Property
  • Grandview Municipal Code Sec. 8.24.020 - Nuisances designated, B. Unsightly Areas – Property Maintenance and Vegetation
  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 8.15.040(E)-(I) - Covers: E. Building and Construction Materials. F. Bodies of Water G. Garbage, Recyclables, and Compost. H. Furniture and Appliances, and I. Debris and Trash

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.

  • Airway Heights Municipal Code Ch. 17.25 - Storage and Shipping Containers
  • Burien Municipal Code Sec. 19.17.040 - Cargo Containers
  • Enumclaw Municipal Code Sec. 19.22.090 - Open storage
  • Douglas County Code Sec. 18.16.120 - Storage standards
  • Kirkland Zoning Code Ch. 115.105 - Outdoor Use, Activity and Storage
  • Moses Lake Municipal Code Ch. 18.76 - Cargo Containers
  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 19.120.260 - Outdoor storage
  • Skamania County Code Ch. 8.30 - Outdoor Storage or Accumulation of Material

Last Modified: October 04, 2019