City officials this year are continuing an effort to inspect all commercial and residential properties in Upper Arlington for code compliance.

In February, Upper Arlington's code-compliance office began "proactive" property-maintenance inspections of an area bounded by Waltham Road to the north; Dublin Road to the west; North Star Road to the east and West Fifth Avenue to the south.

The inspections mark the fourth "zone" to be examined since the city launched the initiative in August 2019. During the previous seven years, inspections were made only if a resident or business complained about a property.

Chad Gibson, Upper Arlington community-development director, said the inspections are taking place because Jessica Dalzell was added as an assistant code-compliance officer last summer.

"Jessica's role is now to systematically inspect the entire city -- we're dividing it into zones -- and to have proactive inspections," Gibson said. "We started with the River Ridge neighborhood, and we're systematically moving around the city."

The proactive inspections also were reinstated, according to Emma Speight, Upper Arlington community affairs director, following the completion of the 2018 River Ridge/Kingsdale West Study, which she said highlighted concerns "of many in the neighborhood about property maintenance issues."

Speight said the issues often were the result of rental properties not being maintained appropriately by landlords or renters failing to meet their yard-care requirements.

"The study recommended that the city begin proactive inspections in an effort to encourage good stewardship of the district's homes and properties," Speight said.

During the inspections, Dalzell goes block to block assessing residential and commercial properties from the public right of way.

Any visible issues, such as deteriorated or damaged exterior finishes, flaking paint and piles of trash or debris, are noted.

Property owners with issues will receive a letter from the code-compliance office that details the problems, the time frame for correcting them and next steps should the issue or issues not be resolved.

"It's a letter ... and it explains the purpose of our proactive inspections, such as improving your property values," Dalzell said. "It's not a citation. No homeowner would get a citation unless they were not complying with us.

"If any homeowner reaches out and needs an extension, has any issues getting it done in the timeline we provided, we offer an extension."

Dalzell said 616 out of 4,140 properties in the first three zones inspected were found to have violations.

Of those, she said, approximately 20 properties are "in the process of being cited."

"There are 361 open cases as of Feb. 26," Dalzell said. "Keep in mind that many of these cases cannot be resolved until spring or summer due to weather restrictions. Paint requires warmer temperatures, etc."

Gibson said there are nearly 36,000 residents and approximately 14,500 households in Upper Arlington, with the "large majority" being single-family homes.

He said citations are a "last resort."

"We get voluntary compliance on well over 90% of the circumstances," he said.

If property owners fail to address violations or make contact with the city to explain plans for doing so, the matters can go to the Mayor's Court or the Franklin County Environmental Court.

But Gibson said the city will work with residents and local business owners to limit those instances.

"Sometimes we're dealing with a variety of circumstances," Gibson said. "Someone may have a health issue; someone may be a senior citizen that has limited resources.

"So we try to be understanding of that."

Gibson also said the city has a duty to property owners to uphold code-compliance regulations to maintain and protect property values.

"You have to follow the rules," said. "(Violations) impact my ability to sell my home.

"That's where our code-enforcement department comes in. Without code enforcement, our zoning code really doesn't have any teeth."

If there are serious safety concerns or other code issues deemed serious, Gibson said, the city's building division, police division and city attorney's office can be called on to take immediate action.

"But that's the exception, rather than the rule," he said. "We try to be helpful."