Licenses and Inspection Visit - High Grass!

So I come home from work yesterday and hanging from my door is a nice little piece of paper from the local L&I office. He apparently felt my grass was too high and is threatening a $1000 fine. Get caught driving recklessly and you’ll get a $500 ticket…grow your grass too high and pay $1000. I’m new to the home owner experience so this is my first run-in with them. My neighbor says he showed up with his blue light flashing in my driveway and started peering in windows and doors after knocking and no one was home.

I’m a little concerned…just what kinds of powers do these guys have? Do I have to let him in to inspect if he asks me? Do they come around on their own at random or does someone have to call them out? Can he tresspass to evaluate how high the grass is in my back yard (its relatively obscured from view due to a privacy fence)?

I looked online last night but wasn’t able to find the rules about how long your grass can grow without getting a visit from the grass nazi. The kicker is that the grass really wasn’t all that bad…I’ve had a really tough couple of weeks and haven’t cut it (death in the family, other issues) but its not like little kids were getting lost in there. The area I live in is called Levittown PA, part of Bristol Township. I found the Bristol Township website but couldn’t locate any information outlining the L&I rules in my area. I’d like to educate myself completely before I call him back today so I can speak with some authority. If anyone could help me answer the questions above I’d really appreciate it.

Bongmaster… high grasss… heh-heh-heh

We don’t have grass nazis here in DC, and I’m also not sure what “L&I” means. I assume this is a government agency of some sort?

I do know that homeowners associations have broad powers to make people’s life a living hell. They can levy fines for all sorts of nosy things, and you are obligated to pay. Those who don’t pay can suddenly find liens on their property.

IME, they are usually called by a nosey neighbor, but can also just stop by at random on a whim. The local ordinances here (Dallas, TX area) generally specify over a foot high, but vary some by city. In the cases I am familiar with, the homeowner has x number of days to correct the problem. After that, the city will send a crew to correct it and bill the homeowner for the service plus the fine. $1000 seems a bit steep, $100 to $500 is what I have seen.

However, in your case, a simple declaration of death in the family would get you a pass on this fine if it came to that.

This is bizarre to my ears. Do you not actually own your land/home when you purchase a house in the US?

Some people buy homes in areas that are covered by “homeowners associations” which outline specific rules about the outward appearance of your home, down to exactly what shades of colors you are allowed to paint your home and what kinds of borders you can have on your sidewalks. This is ostensibly done to protect property values. I find it intrusive and annoying and would personally never buy a home in such an area, but to each their own.

This is accomplished legally by the owner of a property (generally the developer) imposing “deed restrictions” or “land covenants” on a property prior to reselling it to the homeowner.

Deed restrictions/land covenants constrain future owners of the property. They are a matter of public record. Here in the Northeast US, they are imposed by recording them in the Town’s land records, (which is also how property transfers are recorded).

Deed restrictions/land covenants may restrict the presence of antennas/aerials on houses, the presence of clotheslines, the type of fence that may be installed, or even the presence of “nonfunctioning automobiles.” They may also establish a neighborhood association.

Note that they are not government-imposed. Violations are handled by giving members of the neighborhood or association grounds for suing the offender in court.

While they may seem restrictive, they also help prevent a homeowner from bringing down property values in the neighborhood by having a front yard full of junked cars surrounded by a rusty barbed-wire fence.

If you don’t like the restrictions, you simply don’t purchase a property with such restrictions in place.

Most properties do not have these types of restrictions.

P.S. I’m originally from Houston, Texas, where traditionally there is no city zoning. The only thing that prevented someone from building a gasoline service station in the middle of a residential neighborhood was the prior establishment of deed restrictions.

My grandfather was head of a Houston neighborhood association that enforced the deed restrictions in his area. One restriction was the prohibition of garage or tag sales. (The rationale was that they brought in riff-raff and provided cover for criminals to “case” houses.)

About once or twice a weekend, my grandfather would be alerted to the presence of a prohibited garage sale, and he would drive over the house in question and tell them that they had 15 minutes to shut down the sale. If they resisted, things rapidly got more expensive for them. The association had a lawyer on retainer who would file an injunction against the person. Invariably the injunction would be granted, and ultimately the person would be hit in civil court for the cost of attorney’s fees, fines, etc. that would run into the thousands of dollars. When informed of this, most people closed up the garage sale.

It depends on the area.

You tend to find them in developments (i.e. an area where a builder owns a large parcel, subdivides the parcel into smaller parcels, puts in a street and utilities, and proceeds to build out the neighborhood in a relatively short period of time.)

If you buy a random parcel along an established road (like a state highway) and build your own house, there almost certainly will not be any deed restrictions. However, in most parts of the country, there are municipal zoning restrictions. (These will dictate how close to the property boundaries you can build (so-called “set-backs”), etc.

Municipal zoning restrictions are not the same as homeowner’s associations. I just wanted to clarify for Szlater, who is from the UK. Municipal zoming restrictions are a lot less restrictive than homeowner’s associations, and tend to focus on things like how far from the property line you can build your house. Homeowner’s associations, which are not common, focus on weird things like what color you paint your house.

It sounds like your ‘zoning’ is a lot like our ‘planning’ rules in the UK.

Thanks for explaining the homeowner’s association stuff too, I’ve never come across anything like that, that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen over here in the UK.

Does what a neighbour has on his front lawn really affect property prices enough that it would be worth the hassle of these regulations?

Is there any way to overturn deed restrictions and homeowner’s association rules?

I have to disagree with this somewhat. Around here, they are rather common in the suburbs and are almost a given if you are buying a new home built in a subdivision. Not only that, but in Northern VA, it seems that the newer the subdivision, the more powers that a homeowner’s association can have.

Towns and cities end up passing ordinances on grass length and noxious weeds, because one person takes it to the extreme. A crappy neighbor left the lawn unmoved for two monthes last year. That’s the type that cause these ordinances to be passed. Somebody had so much junk in their unmowed yard that the yard became a rat haven and health hazard. The $1000 is the highest fine I’ve ever heard of. It’s like about $50 and hour for the city workers that come over and mow if you don’t comply. It’s the same with unshoveled sidewalks.

Sure. Would you buy an expensive house if there was a junkyard next door? I know I wouldn’t, and nor would many other people. Reduced demand leads to lower prices.

There may be provisions for deed restrictions and/or land covenants to expire, or there may be a procedure to follow that will end them.

For example, I just bought a house in a new subdivision last year, and the land conventants that were put in place by the developer are set to last for 20 years, at which point a majority vote by the homeowners at that time can elect to discontinue the restrictions. Otherwise, they continue for another 20 years, etc.

The only other option is for a homeowner to challenge the restrictions in court. This may or may not succeed.

Just to set the record straight, not all homeowner’s associations have legal or police powers. I belong to one of these non-threatening kind; we exist for social reasons, just to keep all residents informed of matters that might be of interest or affect property values, and to band together should an issue arise where strength in numbers counts.

If someone doesn’t like us, they can drop out or not join. If we don’t like them, there’s not much we can do short of initiating a civil suit. Fortunately, such contention rarely occurs, and we just host picnics and dinners.

Your township website is here. What you’re looking for is “code of ordinances” which is found about a third of the way down the page on the left, under “Contents.” It can be linked from here.

Flipping through it, the only thing I see is Chapter 120, Section 10, where it says “Every occupant of a dwelling, dwelling unit or rooming unit shall maintain in a clean and sanitary condition that part of the dwelling, dwelling unit and yard which he occupies and controls and shall be responsible for his own misuse of areas and facilities available in common.” I could easily have missed something though, but there doesn’t seem to be a specific ruling on exactly how high your grass can to be, just that your yard has to be “clean and sanitary” which would obviously have to be at the discretion of whoever interprets these things.

Penalties at the bottom of that chapter: “Any person, firm or corporation violating any provision of this chapter shall be liable, on conviction thereof, to a fine or penalty not exceeding $600 for each and every offense, which shall inure to the benefit and use of the Township, with the cost of suit, and in default of payment thereof, any District Justice may, in his discretion, commit the offender to prison in the county jail for a period not exceeding 30 days for each and every offense. The Building Official shall give official written notice to the violator by certified mail that he is committing a violation. Each day’s continuance of such violation after notification shall constitute a separate offense, punishable by a like fine or penalty. Such fines shall be collected as like fines are now collected by law.”

I would like to think that a phone call to L&I explaining your situation would be sufficient to take care of this. Also, there could be some other homeowners’ association at play here above and beyond your township’s code of ordinances (as already mentioned), but that seems unlikely to me since you got a letter from the local L&I office and not an HOA.

Standard IANAL disclaimer, just some guy reading a code of ordinances online.

A good friend of mine is going through a bad situation with neighbors right now, and there’s really nothing she can do about it. A house in her neighborhood has become a “rental property” and appears to currently be occupied by at least 8 young males who don’t consider cutting the grass part of their job. The house is right at the entrance to the neighborhood, so the first thing you see when you turn in is an uncut yard full of weeds with at least 6 cars parked in the driveway/on the street. A realtor who came to look at her home (she’s considering downsizing from 4 bedrooms) told her she’d never get a decent price as long as the house on the corner looked like it does. The neighbors have taken it in turn to call the company handling the rental daily to try to get something done.

They have also been used for such “noble” purposes as preventing Blacks and Jews from buying a house in the neighborhood. For many housing developers, these were standard restrictions that they attached to the deeds of property that they developed in the first half of the twentieth-century. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such covenants were unenforceable, since government action to enforce them would violate the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

I have learned here in South Florida that Homeowners Associations are equivalent to the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. They are out of their minds, stuck in their ways, and love the power.

Here in Florida, you will not win. You will lose. No exception. They can fight and fight, and even have the right to take your house.

A guy grew his grass too long in the small Ohio town in which I grew up, and someone put a very official-looking “Federal Rattlesnake Sanctuary” sign up in his yard one night.

The lawn soon was mowed. :stuck_out_tongue: