CODE OFFICERS looking to rid nuisance conditions in locked-up, vacant lots around town just might get a pair of shears to gain access, if a bill becomes law by the end of January.

Legislation passed in City Council on Thursday would allow workers in city's Community Life Improvement Programs, or CLIP, to clip the locks on vacant and abandoned fenced-in lots whose owners are either lost, unknown or unresponsive.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, gives greater power to CLIP, which works to improve the appearance of neighborhoods and eradicate blight.

Tom Conway, the city's deputy managing director, said that when CLIP receives complaints of a nuisance lot on a particular block, an inspector will check out the scene and write violations to property owners they can identify.

But many trash-strewn, rat-infested and overgrown vacant lots go untouched because the city has no authority to butt in.

"If you live on that block but there's a fenced-in, vacant lot that has 10 foot-high weeds with vermin, it becomes a health and safety hazard for the neighbors, but we can't access it," Conway said.

"A lot of these vacant lots - there is no owner or the owner's address is the vacant lot itself. So, then we have to take them to court, you can't get services from the courts, so it turns into a nightmare."

Yet questions remain as to whether the new law violates the property owners' Fourth Amendment rights relating to illegal searches and seizures.

"Oftentimes we'll call a lot into CLIP, not knowing that it is behind a locked gate," Johnson said.

"This results in a huge waste of time and resources, not to mention that neighbors have to continue living next to it."

Council is out on a holiday break and will resume its work on Jan. 23, when Nutter can decide to sign or veto the bill.

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