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Nuisance Abatement

Increasingly, states are rightfully placing the burden of cleaning up litter or illegal dumps on the violated property owners. Sites must be cleaned up before a threat to public health and safety develops. The action described below is available to a resident bothered by neighborhood conditions ("eye sores") provided they meet the formal definition of "JUNK" which is an open area where waste or scrap materials (including , but not limited to scrap iron, paper, rags, tires, metals, bottles, etc.) are... stored or disassembled. The County has the following procedure in place to deal with this type of community issue:

  1. A Citizen Inquiry is received
  2. An Inquiry Registration Form is completed by the County
  3. A Citizen Inquiry Investigation Report is conducted in the field
  4. If results warrant further action, a Certified Letter is forwarded to the property owner requesting correction of the violation, usually within thirty (30) days) after receipt of the letter

If compliance is not achieved, a Municipal Infraction Citation is issued. Likewise, trash and litter complaints, when warranted, are handled by the Office of Environmental Health in the form of a Nuisance Abatement Order.

At that time, the property owner may choose to abate the problem, pay the respective fine(s), notify the Department Land Use and Growth Management in writing as to when the corrective measures will be performed, or stand trial.

The simplest methods of abatement, if the problem relates to the storage of materials, is to: place the items in a shed; erect a privacy fence to obscure the potentially unpleasant view by neighbors shed; or otherwise cover with an approved material.

Uncovered Loads

Much of St. Mary's County litter comes from people transporting unsecured and/or uncovered loads of debris. Not only is this dangerous, its illegal! Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the law. The Maryland Vehicle Law, Section 24, requires any person transporting a load to do so with a vehicle equipped to secure both the load and any covering in order to prevent the escape of refuse while in transit. The owner of a vehicle is responsible for removing the debris within a reasonable amount of time. In addition, all vehicles carrying refuse must be equipped with tied-down covers or other means to prevent ant part of the load from falling or spilling onto the roadway. According to the Code of St. Mary's County Maryland, violation of this provision is guilty of a misdemeanor and liable for a fine of between $250-$5000, or six (6) months imprisonment for each offense. Simply put – all loads must be covered securely!

Illegal Roadside Dumping

It is estimated that the annual cost of roadside litter control nationwide is $115,000,000. The locally adopted Rules and Regulations prohibit the illegal placement of solid waste in any street, alley, river or other public place within the County. According to the Solid Waste Ordinance any person, firm or corporation violating this provision shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; and shall be liable to a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $5,000 or six (6) month's imprisonment. Both large and small quantities of waste found on the roadside are often examined for evidence as to possible origin of the material. Standardized letters are forwarded to the possible originator(s) of the debris advising them of the potential ramifications if additional roadside dumping persists. Please call our Solid Waste Manager at (301) 475-4200 or fill out our Maintenance Request Form to report areas where people have illegally dumped garbage and debris.

Household Trash

Litter in your neighborhood can begin in your own yard. Regular household trash, improperly containerized and placed for pick up, often becomes tomorrow morning's litter. Believe it or not, the mishandling of household trash is one of the primary sources of litter in our community. Always bag and/or can your trash, and use the lid! Never use cardboard boxes for trash containers. Dampness from the ground or rain causes boxes to break down. Don't place light flyable material on top of trash bags and cans. If animals get into your garbage, a tablespoon of ammonia will urge them to scratch elsewhere. Please, make sure trash cans have lids that can be securely fastened, don't overfill your cans and don't put out loose trash in boxes. Problems relating to household garbage can often be handled neighbor-to-neighbor. But in the few instances that this doesn't solve the problem, citizens can contact the Commissioners of St. Mary's County for assistance.

Abandoned Vehicles

Any vehicle, trailer or semi-trailer, whether parked on private or public property, without a valid license and inspection sticker is considered abandoned. Abandoned or inoperable vehicles include vehicles which for 48 hours or longer have been partially or totally disassembled by the removal of tires, wheels, engine or other essential parts required for operation of the vehicle. These vehicles are a nuisance, unsightly, reduce property values and are potential breeding sites for rodents and other small animals. The County Sheriff's Department enforces the County's Abandoned Vehicle Ordinance. Such complaints should be addressed either through the Non-Emergency Number, (301) 475-8008, or directly to the Department of Land Use and Growth Management at (301) 475-4200 extension 1584.

Empty Lots/Dump Sites

An empty lot or existing dumpsite is an open invitation for illegal activities. Litter begets litter. A single improperly disposed item will quickly grow into a larger unsafe dumpsite. The County Code requires that persons maintain their property in a litter free manner. This includes both private and commercial properties and applies even to instances when the dumping is done by someone other than the owner. A community clean-up effort is usually an ideal solution. A neighbor, local youth or civic organization, etc. can create a program that becomes a win-win situation for both property owners and nearby residents. To request that a property being cleaned, you should first contact the owner. If he/she is not known, the DPW&T or other County Agency, may be able to assist you.

Residential Construction Projects

Construction at your home, such as a deck or other addition, can certainly increase the value of your home. Unfortunately, many homeowners look toward the end of the project, rather than take measures to insure the safety and visual qualities of the neighborhood. Construction debris should be secured daily and trash containers should be provided for all debris produced during construction. In addition, construction materials should be secured to prevent scattering by the wind. Unfortunately, this has become one of our primary sources of litter in the community. However, these problems can usually be resolved by talking directly neighbor-to neighbor and establishing a Community Clean Up Event.


Graffiti is not art! Graffiti is not a game! GRAFFITI IS A CRIME! The word graffiti is related to the Latin word graphium, which means to write. In prehistoric times, cave dwellers used ashes and berry juice to paint on cave walls. The ancient Egyptians decorated monuments with hieroglyphics that described the history of their nation. During World War II, American soldiers scrawled messages on their vehicles. The invention of spray paint gave rise to the modern graffiti vandal.

Making one's mark seems to be a universal need. However, as responsible people we need to find more socially acceptable ways to express ourselves. Marking or tagging someone else's property, without permission, is vandalism and is illegal. Any person who defaces property (of another) valued at less than $1,000 has committed a misdemeanor punishable by confinement in jail for up to one year and a fine of up to $2,500. If the defaced property is valued at more than $1,000 the offense is a felony punishable by imprisonment from 1 to 5 years or by confinement in jail for up to 1 year and a fine of $2,500. The value of the damage may be established by the repair or replacement costs.

Commercial Refuse Containers

Although businesses are required to provide litter receptacles for the litter generated at their location, citizens should not take advantage of the convenience by disposing of unwanted household items, garbage or other debris. Publicly provided trash cans are only for the disposal of trash generated while visiting the site. This also applies to trash dumpsters. Citizens should not dispose of any debris in a dumpster without the consent of the business paying for the use of the dumpster. Dumpsters are for private use only. Your trash may be traced back to you if it is found along the roadside or otherwise illegally disposed of. If you own a business, please check dumpsters daily to see that the top and side doors are closed—and if you notice a lot of cardboard, please recycle. Unfortunately, two of the primary contributors of litter in the community are dumpsters used by businesses and activities around loading docks.

Household Hazardous Waste

Proper disposal of used motor oil and antifreeze from autos, motorcycles, lawn mowers, chains saws and other small engines is important to keeping our community environmentally healthy. In addition, many additional household materials are hazardous if improperly disposed. Residents can dispose of household hazardous waste, free of charge, at regularly scheduled events in June and October. For additional information, please contact the DPW&T County Solid Waste Manager at (301) 475-4200 or visit our Household Hazardous Waste web-site.

General Unkempt Appearance

A clean area with available trash receptacles is less likely to draw litter than an unkempt site without a trash receptacle. People are less likely to think before littering if the ground is already covered. Keeping a yard free of debris with neatly trimmed lawns, gardens and trees goes a long way toward maintaining the general appearance and value of your home and neighborhood. Oftentimes, this debris is blown adjacent and/or into the roadways. There are no laws that require people to manicure their lawns or plant flowers. However, leadership by example often encourages others to spruce up. If unsure if there is any violation, please feel free to contact the Department of Permits & Inspections or the County Health Department.

Unmown Lawns/Overgrown Weeds

Everyone has different standards on ways to maintain their property. St. Mary's County has no real property management regulations to prevent the wild unmanaged growth of lawns and weeds unless a "nuisance" is established by the local Health Department. Owners of occupied residential properties or owners of vacant property, developed or undeveloped, Often the problem is not neglect but an inability to do the physical work. We recommend neighbors offer assistance before lodging a nuisance complaint. When necessary, weed complaints should be directed to the Department of Permits & Inspections at (301) 475-4200.

Unsolicited Newspapers and Advertising Materials

This, of course, is not your traditional litter. In fact, unless it disturbs you, it's not often considered a problem. However, it is illegal to distribute commercial handbills, leaflets or other advertising/information materials in a way that they litter either public or private property. For those who resent and dislike receiving such materials, we advise the following:

  • Contact the newspaper/advertiser, verbally and in writing, to register your complaint and request non-delivery to your address.
  • Verbally and in writing, inform businesses advertising in the material/newspaper that you do not patronize businesses advertising in this manner or advertising in a publication that uses this delivery method.
  • Seek a littering warrant against the person delivering the material.

The County has an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of advertising materials in a manner that causes litter. This is enforced by the Permits and Inspections and Health Departments. Contact them to determine if this pertains to your case.

The Commissioners of St. Mary's County will, on your behalf, follow up on your requests with an additional letter to the offender. Contact the DPW&T for more information.