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Officially, Margie Zietz is the code enforcement officer for the City of Minot. But let’s be real: Zietz is the complaint lady.
And that means she deals with hundreds of nuisance complaints, ranging from abandoned vehicles to dangerous vacant buildings to pet droppings to gardens that take up too much space in someone’s yard. Yep, she sees it all.
“I feel like I can make a difference in the city that I love,” said Zietz, who spent more than 30 years with the Minot Police Department. “That’s why I love this job. It allows me to continue to use a lot of the tools I used during my time with the Police Department, just in a little bit different manner.”
In addition to nuisance complaints, Zietz also takes care of zoning complaints and is in charge of reviewing permits for business signs. But about two-thirds of her time is spent on nuisances.
She rattles off detailed information about some ongoing nuisance sites, and about cases where nuisances have been successfully remedied. From memory, she can tell you the names of property owners, their history with the City, and the current status of their situations.
“The goal is always to reach compliance,” she said. “It’s neat to take photos of locations that have been cleaned up following a complaint. That makes me really happy because I love this city.”
Zietz said she had only two instances in 2018 where the City had to do an abatement on a property, and four instances so far in 2019.
“I think that’s a pretty good success rate. The rest of them are working on coming into compliance,” said Zietz, noting she worked on 192 nuisance cases in 2018 and is currently at 148 cases this year. “I had four success stories in one day this summer. That was pretty neat.”
Of course, compliance doesn’t always happen, and complaints that eventually come into compliance take time to resolve. Zietz understands that neighbors can be frustrated when the issue doesn’t change quickly, but reminds everyone that there is a legal process that must be followed.
“I get it. It’s frustrating to me, too, sometimes, but property owners have rights and they must be given time to resolve these issues, and that can take some time,” she said. “Yes, people have the right not to live next door to a pile of junk and trash in the neighbor’s yard, but that neighbor also has the right to make the effort to fix the problem.”
If the property owner doesn’t live in Minot, they might not even be aware of any issues until a complaint is filed. The issue might be the fault of someone renting the property, or the property management team hasn’t taken care of ongoing issues.
The most common complaints Zietz gets are about garbage and grass. The Public Works Department handles grass and weed complaints, while Zietz tackles the rest.
Garbage doesn’t always mean trash, she said, although there is often plenty of that, too. Many times the complaints are about old furniture, appliances, junked vehicles, or building materials. There’s a lengthy process to follow to inform the property and allow them time to come into compliance. If the nuisance hasn’t been resolved after that process, the City will clean up the property, and the cost is assessed to the owner’s next property tax bill.
In her three years on the job, Zietz has seen tons of “stuff” removed from homes and yards. A recent abatement in Minot resulted in the removal of six tons of debris from a yard, including a swimming pool full of foul-smelling water and an abandoned camper. Another recent case involved a home jam-packed with so much stuff that it overflowed into the back yard; in that case, three people were still living in what little space was left in the home, including an elderly woman and a young child.
Zietz’s outgoing personality and ability to talk to people make her an ideal fit for her position. She’s also a multi-tasker. While she makes her rounds to check on ongoing compliance issues, Zietz is constantly scanning yards, vacant lots, and any other location she drives past. Or people.
“I know that’s not my job any more, but it’s hard to break old habits,” she said, glancing at two people walking in northwest Minot. “I catch myself thinking ‘I wonder if those two are up to something?’ ”
On this day in September, Zietz is on the phone with an out-of-state property owner while she’s taking photos of another site. She tells the property owner on the phone that the garbage pile on his property is getting worse, and politely but firmly asks when he’ll have the mess cleaned up.
This week, he says. “You have until Friday,” she counters. “I’ll be back to check.”
As the City’s lone code enforcement officer, Zietz’s days are spent dealing with all aspects of complaints. That means making site visits to take photographs, searching through records to find phone numbers for property owners, tracking down out-of-state owners, writing letters to inform owners that their property is out of compliance, and whatever else she needs to do to document cases. Sometimes, that means finding property owners on Facebook, or checking obituaries to see if property owners have passed away.
“Sometimes it takes some digging, but I generally find the information I’m looking for so I can inform the property owner what’s going on,” she said.
Her advice to someone considering filing a legitimate nuisance complaint? Follow the process, and don’t wait.
“The first thing I would say is to give me a call so I have some background information about the nuisance. There is also a formal process to file a complaint through the City of Minot website and we have the Citizen Request Tracker to report concerns,” Zietz said. “Normally, what I try to do is write the property owner a letter explaining what the ordinance explains and what particular violation they have in their yard so they know what to correct.”
Zietz encourages residents with legitimate concerns to let the City know by filing an official nuisance complaint.
“Sometimes I feel people wait too long. I don’t think our citizens of Minot should have to wait so long to have a nice, safe neighborhood,” she said. “Granted, the process might take a little while, but if you feel something isn’t right or something is going to make the whole neighborhood look horrible, don’t wait for weeks, or months, or years. The only way we can act on a complaint is if we get one.”
Anyone wanting to file a nuisance complaint should visit the City of Minot’s website at minotnd.org and click on the “Report a Concern” link on the left side of the page. They can also call Zietz at 837-3657. To report a weed or grass complaint, call the Public Works Department at 857-4140.