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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Sarah Smith’s oft-delayed garage sale has caught the attention of Neighborhood Code Enforcement.

On-again, off-again sale draws city code

An upset woman called a couple of weeks ago, complaining that Neighborhood Code had shown up at her door and hauled away a broken electric wheelchair that was sitting behind her garage.

The woman, Sarah Smith, who lives on East Paulding Road, said the batteries had gone dead on the wheelchair. She was going to buy new batteries, but they cost more than $100 each, and because she has lupus and is on disability she could afford to buy only one battery a month. That’s why the wheelchair was parked behind her garage.

Meanwhile, she picked up another motorized wheelchair at a pawnshop and was using it inside her home.

I drove by her house. It was easy to find. The entire front yard was jammed with various items, part of what was to be a garage sale. Some items were on tables or mats on the ground, and others were scattered in the yard.

It wasn’t the first time Smith has banged heads with Neighborhood Code. In April, Smith says, the department told her to clean up a pile of derelict TV sets next to her garage. She said she put them in the trash and they were hauled away.

Then Smith again came to Neighborhood Code’s attention in late May.

Apparently, Smith once had dreams of starting a secondhand store, a helper said, but when her lupus kicked up a few years ago, she realized she wouldn’t be able to handle it, so now she had a garage full of assorted items.

In May, Smith decided to have a garage sale, so she filled her front yard with all kinds of items, but the sale was rained out. So Smith left the items in place and decided to hold a sale the next weekend.

On June 3, Neighborhood Code showed up. They had gotten complaints about all the stuff that had been in her yard for days and told Smith she had to remove the items. That, apparently, was when the wheelchair was taken.

I asked Neighborhood Code about all this. They had a somewhat different story.

Smith, I was told, was given an order to abate, to remove the debris from her yard, and was given 10 days to comply.

“We don’t just say, ‘Clean that up by tomorrow,’ ” said Cindy Joyner, head of Neighborhood Code. And if people need extra time, the department will give them time to comply, she said.

On the occasion the wheelchair was removed, there were two wheelchairs on the property. One was in front. Another was in back, and it was rusty and not serviceable, Joyner said.

On that day, Joyner said, Smith asked if she could put some items in her garage, and code officers and a contractor actually moved some items for her, but she never asked that the wheelchair be put in the garage. It got hauled away.

Meanwhile, the department is continuing to get complaints about Smith. The items that were put out for a garage sale in May remain in place, filling the side yard and part of the front yard.

Smith said the city sent her a letter last week reminding her that she is allowed to have only three garage sales a year, and they are allowed to last only three days.

But it’s been at least three weeks now that Smith’s yard has been filled with garage sale items, and complaints continue to come in.

“I just got a walk-in complaint, and I sent an officer out,” Joyner said.

I went to talk to Smith again Friday. I wasn’t sure what to tell her about the wheelchair. It’s a classic he-said, she-said situation.

Smith was in the front yard in an electric wheelchair, slowly sorting through some of the items in her yard.

Someone had gotten into her yard and taken the tarps off all the items she had out for sale, she said. Now she had to sort through what she had and get it ready for a sale.

The sale, though, wouldn’t be this weekend, she said. It takes time to get ready, and people won’t come if things aren’t neat. So the sale would be next weekend. The items would remain in her yard for another week.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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