Watch out, Charlotte. Code enforcement officials are cracking down this year.

CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - Property owners and renters, beware: It's getting more costly in Charlotte if you don't keep up your property, leave out bulky items and trash cans at the curb, or let your grass grow too long.

Fines for most violations have been increased from $50 to $150, effective Jan. 1. And Code Enforcement is also implementing a new policy under which the department is compiling a list of property owners with four or more code violations in 2017.

Property owners on that list will be labeled repeat and chronic offenders – and will face steeply increasing fines if they are cited again this year. For their fourth new violation, repeat and chronic offenders will see the fine increase to $250.

And for each offense after that, fines will rise to $500.

Code enforcement manager Ben Krise said the city is focusing on repeat offenders because they make up a large proportion of code violation cases. The higher fines, Krise said, will act as a bigger deterrent.

"What we've seen through an analysis of the data is we're spending some significant time and resources focusing on repeat offenders," said Krise. "It's a cat-and-mouse game."

Krise said the department is still compiling its repeat offenders list and will notify people who are on it soon. If they don't have four violations this year, they won't be on the list in 2019.

"We will notify them all in advance," he said. "They will know before we do any chronic or repeat offender enforcement in 2018."

Some landlords who own multiple properties have said they're worried about being labeled repeat offenders because of multiple single violations at scattered rental homes. For example, a landlord who owns 10 properties and has one citation for tenants leaving trashcans out at four of those could be put on the repeat offender list and face higher fines this year.

Landlords generally pass on citation costs to their tenants if they can, but one landlord who spoke with the Observer said several $500 fines might push them to raise rents at multiple properties to cover the cost, if tenants won't pay.

Krise confirmed that a landlord in that situation – four separate properties with one curbside violation each – could end up on the repeat offender list. But he said the department won't count the first new curbside offense, such as a trashcan not being taken in, toward the increased fines.

"The very first time...we will be sending a notice that won't be included in the escalating fee schedule," said Krise.

Krise also said that almost all first-time curbside offenders get a warning instead of a fine, and that about 95 percent of those comply voluntarily. Door hangers and letters mailed to a property owner usually take care of any exterior problems, he said.

"We're trying to be reasonable, but also a deterrent," said Krise.