Changes to graffiti ordinance set more stringent standards for homeowners

Minneapolis homeowners who find their property has been tagged with graffiti will now need to move on the double to clean it up.

The City Council approved a number of amendments to the graffiti ordinance May 12 that give city officials more latitude in ordering graffiti cleanup and homeowners half as much time to remove the unwanted markings.

The changes are part of an attempt to combat a significant graffiti problem in Minneapolis. In February of this year alone there were 1,900 graffiti complaints, and the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year removing it from public and private property, according to police.

The ordinance amendments shift the responsibility of graffiti abatement to the Public Works Department and give homeowners 10 days – rather than 20 – after receiving a notice from the city to clean up graffiti. If the graffiti still hasn’t been removed at that time, the city will clean it up and homeowners will be assessed a fee.

Councilmember Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said he understands that some community members are concerned that the ordinance changes essentially punish graffiti victims by subjecting them to more stringent standards. But he said that is not the intent, emphasizing the city is simply looking for ways it can continue to combat this growing problem.

City Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) echoed that thought, adding that the city is trying to help neighborhoods stay on top of the graffiti problem.

“In many cases, people are victims of a crime when this happens Š we’re not trying to be punitive, but helpful,” she said.

But Councilmember Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) said he had concerns with the ordinance changes and cautioned the Council to move forward “delicately and thoughtfully.” He said the city needs to be cautious that it doesn’t abate what it determines is graffiti and the property owner feels is artistic expression.

“I think we are walking into some areas where freedom of expression and property rights are involved,” Gordon said.

Gordon supported the amendments “with reservations” and asked that inspectors use careful judgment in deciding what graffiti to remove.

Councilmembers also emphasized that it will be important to inform residents about the ordinance changes so they will know what is expected of them if their property is tagged. Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) said her ward has been hard hit by graffiti. While she said she feels the city is doing the right thing in making these amendments to the graffiti ordinance, she encouraged the Council to think about how it will communicate the changes to the public.

The Council has to be sensitive to the fact that some residents might not be aware of the ordinance changes and might not have the resources to immediately get rid of the graffiti, said Councilmember Don Samuels (5th Ward).