Today, here’s some landscaping-related drama that’s more, well, sad than anything. Linda Ruggles, a 53-year-old photographer and resident of Mount Pleasant, S.C., was recently jailed after failing to pay a $480 fine for having an unkempt, potentially dangerous yard. In 2010, an already strapped Ruggles was slapped with a “clean lot” violation by town officials responding to complaints from neighbors. Next, Ruggles entered a yearlong battle to rectify the situation, although town officials claim she blew off warnings and scheduled court dates and rebuffed their "compassionate approach" to the situation.
Code enforcement officer Mark Sargeant claims: "The town bent over backward for her. We did everything we could to accommodate her, but she didn't reciprocate." Long story short, Ruggles never cleaned up or paid up so she was arrested on Jan. 5.
So what exactly was so eyesore-inducing about Ruggles' property? Well, it entails a bit more than untrimmed hedges and knee-high grass (and no, that's not it pictured up top). The Charleston Post and Courier explains that in 2008, Ruggles embarked on a few major home improvement projects that never reached fruition due in part to her financial struggles in the down economy. As a result, “piled packages of shingles have sat on her roof, unopened, for three years. And her driveway is littered with scrap metal and other items she collects to help pay her bills.” And on the topic of bills, those are what prevented her from paying the fine or cleaning up in the first place as she “was pouring every last cent she earned into saving her home from foreclosure and satisfying her back taxes.”
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Marty Vermillion, a neighbor concerned about the effect Ruggles' yard was having on local property values and unnerved by the fact that the shingles could cause serious damage in a hurricane, told the Post and Courier: "This is not something that just cropped up. This has been going on for years. This person had multiple chances to avoid all of this. ... Offers of help have been rejected and rejected. It's affecting our property values and that's not right or fair."
But wait … there’s a happy ending here. After a judge shaved four days off of her 10-day stint in jail, Ruggles, who works part-time at a supermarket and sells her blood and participates in medical experiments to help make ends meet, was released to an unexpected outpouring of public support. A local roofing company offered to shingle her roof free of charge while a landscaping company offered clean-up services, also gratis. A realty company has even stepped in with an offer to perform home repair work while others, many who heard about Ruggles' struggle through local media, have pledged to make monetary donations.
While Ruggles was overwhelmed with gratitude for all the help, she also remains indignant about the town’s codes: “It didn’t change the situation. I just don’t think being handcuffed, photographed and fingerprinted is really a behavior-modification tool to keep me from being poor.” And prior to returning home, Ruggles announced to the Post and Courier that she was planning on littering her yard with junked toilets and hideous lawn ornaments to further enrage her fed-up neighbors.
Okay, I completely understand that in truly hard times, yard maintenance may not be a top priority, especially when you're trying to save your home of 15 years. But, to be honest, Ruggles does sound like a bit of an insufferable pill. What do you think? From what you've read, do you think town officials were too harsh?