Must Screened Porches Be Clean

by Amanda
(N. Ft.myers ,fla)

Visitor Question: Can I be told I have to clean up my screened-in porch?

Editors’ Reply: Yes, both your neighbors and your homeowners’ association, if you have one, can tell you to clean up your porch, even if totally enclosed but still visible in part from the exterior of your home.

We suspect though that you are asking if a code enforcement official from your city or county can require a screened-in porch to be cleaned up. If so, we offer a few observations for you.

The International Property Maintenance Code, which most but not all municipalities adopt (sometimes with a few local amendments), requires that the exterior of a home, the premises (meaning the entire lot), and the interior of the home be kept free from an accumulation of rubbish and garbage. Remember that while you might consider a 10 foot high stack of newspapers a valuable collection, someone who is clueless about the personal meaning to you would say that that would be a stack of rubbish.

Depending on who is making the interpretation, and the underlying law that he or she is interpreting, a screened porch might be seen as part of the home’s exterior or part of the home’s interior. But it’s a sure bet that it is one or other other. The code requires basic cleanliness in both.

So it’s likely that if you have quite a few objects on an exterior porch, someone looking at that might consider it rubbish. An inspector for your municipality (or county, if you are in a so-called unincorporated area) might well say that you have an accumulation of rubbish.

The most general statement of the criteria for exterior maintenance under the International Code Council codes is that your grounds must be kept “clean, safe, and sanitary.” Under most plain meanings of the term, that means that you cannot have a major collection of items stored on your porch, whether it is screened in (screened or adjacent to the home on all four sides) or not.

Code enforcement officials also would be likely to point to provisions of the model code prohibiting the maintenance of any condition on your property that would harbor rats or other vermin. Conceivably a large amount of “stuff” on your porch could be interpreted as a code violation in that regard as well.

If a code violation letter is sent to you, that is only the first step in the process. Then you have the opportunity to appear before a municipal judge, many of whom grant a little more leniency than the code inspector. But the judge ultimately has the power to force compliance through imposing fines or other penalties that the law allows.

We bring up municipal judges because if a particular code inspector sees a baseball bat, a lawn chair, and a little table on the screened-in porch and thinks that your porch needs to be cleaned, the judge no doubt will disagree. Judges usually will tame down extreme reactions on the part of inspectors. But when three items becomes 10, 20, or 50, the judge will tend toward enforcing the law.

There is some discretion in the interpretation of almost all property maintenance codes. For example, these codes almost always prohibit peeling paint, and yet no judge is going to start fining you because an inspector comes by and sees a spot no more than a quarter inch in diameter where the paint is starting to give way. But if the paint is wearing off all along the soffit under your roofline, a good inspector will send you a code enforcement letter, and a good municipal judge will give you 60 days to scrape and re-paint that surface and report back in at court.

We hope this discussion and series of examples give you a basis for deciding what to do.

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