Lawn Mowing: Landower 1, County 0

In the recent unpublished case of Forest County v. Dwayne Pasternak, the appellate court overturned a circuit court judgment enforcing a Forest County nuisance citation against a homeowner for a failure to mow his lawn. The appellate court found that the County had failed to show that an uncut lawn constitutes a nuisance.  This case turned on the definition of a public nuisance, and the gist of it was whether or not an uncut lawn creates a hazard to the health and safety of the public.  Under the set of facts in this case, the County had failed to provide sufficient evidence of such a risk to the public.

It would probably be unwise to jump to the conclusion that municipalities cannot enforce violations of ordinances regulating the height of lawns. The court in this case was quick to point out that here the citation was for a public nuisance which allegedly caused a health hazard, and the County had not proved a health hazard.  In other cases, municipalities have successfully enforced ordinances specific to noxious weeds and also maximum height regulations.

Nevertheless, this case, while unpublished, does present some things for municipalities to ponder when attempting to make a private property owner mow his or her lawn. It might also be noted that County action in this case was apparently prompted by a neighbor’s complaint.

As an aside, private property owners who don’t like what their neighbor’s are doing will sometimes try to get the local municipality involved to stop the neighbor. Neighbor against neighbor is a potential minefield where a municipality must tread very carefully.

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