Orem tackles hoarding in neighborhoods

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OREM — As viewers nationwide watch television shows on hoarding, sitting mesmerized and horrified, Orem has been tackling the issue in its own backyard.

As far back as 2001, when the Orem City Council passed a nuisance ordinance focused on community pride and neighborhood preservation, their Neighborhood Preservation Unit has handled hoarding cases. Their most recent estimate is that the unit, which also handles cleaning up suspected drug houses, has responded to 3,000 cases in 2010 alone.

Orem City Ordinance
Accumulation of Junk. Accumulation of used or damaged lumber; junk; salvage materials; abandoned, discarded or unused furniture; stoves, sinks, toilets, cabinets, or other fixtures or equipment stored so as to be visible from a public street, alley, or adjoining property.

"One of the most challenging issues a neighborhood can face is coping with residents who want to accumulate unsanitary or unsightly items in their yards," Orem Police Sgt. Craig Martinez said.

The three-person unit is made up of two Orem police officers and a police sergeant who handle different parts of Orem. When it comes to hoarding, they deal strictly with the accumulation of junk outside of the home, as it is forbidden under the nuisance ordinance, though the Department of Public Safety occasionally deals with problems within homes.

"Anything, basically, that creates a nuisance for someone nearby, we'll look into," said Martinez. "We've been to places where you can walk up and smell it."

The Department of Public Safety knows that hoarding is a problem affecting our community.

–Sgt. Craig Martinez

The most extreme example, according to Martinez, was an incident in which a man's wife passed away and he didn't know immediately because he couldn't find her among the couple's belongings.

"The Department of Public Safety knows that hoarding is a problem affecting our community," he said.

Orem resident Kathy Adams says it's hard to believe what she sees when she looks out her bedroom window - which faces her neighbor's backyard. Scrap metal, tools, broken down cars -- it's all there.

"We have a few little things in our yard, maybe one or two chairs that didn't get put away for the winter, but that's different than a pathway through the yard of things," she said.

Jocelyn Hardman also lives near such a house, and says she's happy the city is cracking down.

"You don't want that to see," she said. "You want people who care about their property and keep it clean and make it a nice place to live."

Adams says she worries about fire or something else happening so close to her home.

"All the things that are collected, if something happened, the fire would just be unreal," she said.

The first time police go to someone's home, they'll give them a warning and time to clean up the junk.

If nothing is done, it becomes a criminal violation. In one case, the city hired a contractor to clean a yard -- and sent the homeowner the bill.

Story compiled with contributions from Alex Cabrero and The DMC News Team.


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