ST. PETERSBURG — In Lakewood Estates, some neighbors call them "lawn ornaments" — rusting automobiles sitting in driveways and adorned by old, ripped tarps.
"When the wind blows, you can see the flat tires," said Judy Ellis, president of the civic association. "It's just a real eyesore."
The cars — sometimes there are two or more — have sat there despite a city ordinance against inoperable vehicles left outside buildings. It appears that for years, widespread use of tarps impeded code enforcement officers from weeding out the scofflaws, city officials say.
Not anymore. Legislation that passed the City Council last week creates guidelines for the use of tarps on vehicles. The law goes into effect next month after it is announced through an educational campaign.
Under the new rule, tarps must be 6 inches off the ground (to detect flat tires, supports holding up the frame or parts on the ground). A license plate must either be attached to the covering or represented by 2-inch lettering on the cover. Lastly, the covering must be clean and of one color.
The problem is not unique to the Lakewood neighborhood. The new rule bolsters enforcement of what is already the fifth most common code violation on the city's top 10 list, said code enforcement official Todd Yost.
There were about 900 violations for junk cars in 2007, an average for recent years.
"We have seen cars that literally, the floorboard is rusting out and they are just laying on top of blocks," said Yost.
City Council member Karl Nurse, who said the trend was especially prevalent in Lakewood Terrace and Lakewood Estates, brought the issue to the city's attention.
Nurse said the change is meant to deter scofflaws, but also protect those who just want to protect their car from the hot Florida sun.
"This is a pretty straightforward way to overcome that obstacle," he said. "If you know it's a junk car, or inoperative motor vehicle, then you can pursue a remedy."
Yost said code enforcement officers first address the violation with a notice to the homeowner, followed by a fine of $125 plus court fees if no action is taken in 72 hours. The second offense gets a $250 fine, and the third, $500.
Junk cars that are left on the street are handled by the police department, which uses the more aggressive technique of towing.
Ellis said she hoped the new rule would help clean up Lakewood Estates, a neighborhood that was developed around the St. Petersburg Country Club and relies on it to maintain property values.
"I suspect a lot of people will simply move things to the backyard," Ellis said of some of her neighbors. "It's okay with me."
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.