Trim your hedges or go to jail

Village in the Hamptons mandates that hedges between properties be trimmed annually, in an effort to mandate a neighborly approach.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Sep 12, 2011 2:19PM

© Mel Watson/Garden Picture Library/Getty ImagesWe've all dealt with neighbors who don't keep up their yards, making the neighborhood look bad and bringing down the values of everyone's home.

In the tony Long Island town of Southampton, N.Y., that sort of thing will not be tolerated. In fact, if you don't trim your hedges by July 31 every year, you could go to jail.


"It’s a practical matter," Village Attorney Richard DePetris said at 27 East. "The adjacent neighbor has to either tolerate an expanding, growing hedge overhanging onto his property or has to cut it himself — or has to go out and hire somebody to cut it himself, and there’s no recourse for getting that expense back from the actual owner of the hedge."


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The crackdown on unruly hedges apparently enjoys strong support in the Hamptons. The Southampton Village Board passed the new law unanimously, much to the delight of residents at the meeting. Some want the law to go further and restrict the height of hedges.


Many municipalities do restrict the height of hedges, though only a few actually send scofflaws to jail.


The new Southampton law requires owners of hedges along property boundaries to trim the top and both sides, including the side in their neighbor's yard, though they must first get written permission from the neighbor. Those who fail to keep their hedges in check face a fine of up to $1,000, up to 15 days in jail or a fine plus jail time.


Southampton isn't the first city to threaten jail for homeowners who don't keep their foliage in line. Back in 2002, Palo Alto, Calif., arrested a 61-year-old cancer patient and threatened her with jail when the xylosma bushes in her swale grew above the allowable 2 feet. Oak Park, Mich., is threatening to send a homeowner to jail for planting a vegetable garden in her front yard.

Good fences may make good neighbors, but bad hedges clearly do not. Fights between neighbors over hedges get serious from time to time. In Green Valley, Ariz., one resident sued his neighbor over hedges he said blocked his mountain view. In England in 2003, one neighbor shot another to death after a dispute over the hedge dividing their property.

Perhaps the Southampton hedge law isn't as draconian as it sounds. Keeping the foliage that divides your yard and your neighbor's trimmed neatly, as well as consulting from time to time on its appearance, is part of being a good neighbor.

Apr 13, 2013 10:03AM
Apr 13, 2013 8:45AM
It seems that laws are only enacted by elected officials whose only purpose is to keep their own cushy jobs!!!!!!!!
Apr 13, 2013 8:24AM
 I agree with the law, just not the jail time. I believe homeowner should get a fine and taken to small claims court if he doesn't pay. The fine amount should be enough to have a contractor come out and do the trimming plus some punitive damages for negligence. If there is continued incompliance maybe a judge could order jail time. The threat of taking away someone's freedom for nuisance hedges for a first offence is an abuse of our criminal justice system in my opinion. Taking someone's freedom for such a matter should only be considered after all other civil legal options have failed. I know people are going to say that it's good they put the threat of imprisonment  right out there at the beginning because it will prevent much aggravation to neighbors and keep property values up. But it's too much force and control by the government to initially levy against a would be offender at the onset. I know we don't like slum neighbors, but we have to  deal with them in a diligent manner, using the least amount of threat in the beginning and patiently progressing with legal force if compliance is not met. If we follow the logic of this foliage law, we should be able to hold the threat of taking someone's liberty for other matters that should be dealt with in civil court. So why have a civil court if we are going to criminalize civil matters? And when you use the threat of the criminal justice system and the taking of someone's freedom for civil matters, you start moving away from our constitution and system of democracy and you become something else.   
Apr 13, 2013 5:47AM
The Hamptons
What do you expect from a bunch of rich scum?

Apr 13, 2013 5:38AM
Just think if you lived near a Monsanto supplied farm and the wind blew their GMO Seeds onto your property.  They could sue you and force you to collect them and return them to Monsanto.

So then could your neighbor require you to collect and return fruit from the trees that overhang and fall onto your property?

Apr 13, 2013 5:31AM
Hey, I know a person who refused to pay home-owner's dues because the association was not doing any upkeep.  A judge ordered the couple to spend the long weekend in a San Antonio jail!!!!!!  The wife was not even on the deed.  Makes a person think twice about the disadvantages of having associations. 
Apr 13, 2013 5:19AM
If my neighbor's hedges were on their own property, I would have no problem. I like the privacy factor, however their monstrously huge forsythia hedge is now 6 to 12 FEET into my yard, completely obliviating bushes that are in MY yard. Why should it be MY responsibility to cut them back? Do the folks on here that are saying not to worry about it think it would be alright if there neighbors parked a row of cars in their yard? Take some responsibility for your own actions and trim those hedges!!! And as for the comments about putting a weed killer or defoliant such as roundup on them, then what happens? Are your neighbors going to somehow become responsible enough to dig up and remove the now ugly dead hedges? Probably not. Time to go to the township to file a complaint...
Apr 13, 2013 5:13AM
I agree with the laws.  They also need to be strict as to the height of the hedges.  Our neighbor cost us a lot of money and aggravation because we had to pay someone to trim his trees and cut down large limbs that we possible dangers to life and the structure of our house.  He also let his yard go and it cost us extra time and money to deal with the unsightly growth.  We eventually put a fence up which we didn't need to do then, just as we made arrangements to install the fence, we find out he was due to move the following week!!!!!.  Well, don't underestimate the value of these laws, because with house prices dwindling this past year or two, not too many people want their home to decrease in value ,which is what will happen to us if our neighbor "Careless" couldn't care less!
Apr 13, 2013 4:29AM
Natural hedges should not be trimmed harshly-and hedges that the owner feels should be trimmed, the height and width as long as it is on their property is no ones's business but theirs.  Hedges can shield a lot of crap that the other neighbors have for your viewing pleasure-everything from old cars, garbage piled up, tons of utility crap and those unnecessary overly bright on all night long aimed into your property and windows lights--yup, hedges are the property owners business--God love them!
Apr 13, 2013 4:18AM
Stupid rule. No wonder everybody hates our stupid government,
Apr 13, 2013 3:59AM
Apr 13, 2013 3:43AM

Sounds like medieval times are back.  I'd move from there in a hurry.


Apr 13, 2013 3:26AM
fake bushes, flowers require no maintainence and look good all year long, your friends and neighbors will think you have a green thumb, and if dogs and cats piss on them they don;t die like a real plant would, i did it to my house and everyone is amazed at the resuults !!!!
Oct 27, 2012 10:03PM
Just more and more of nothing. We have a lot of this back when Hitler was in charge. In now we are headed back in that same direction. that  we were trying to  escape from this. 
Oct 27, 2012 7:16PM
At 2am and a gallon of kill all round up and it's a done deal...It will soon be the big brown hedges...
Sep 26, 2011 12:14PM

The home my husband and I bought had hedges growing on both sides of the property (153 feet on each side) They were NOT our hedges.  Our neighbors informed us that they called them "Grudge Shrubs" .  They planted them to spite the previous owners as they were the most hated people in the valley where we live.  One side of the property the neighbors keep cut.  They have to come onto our property to cut them, they walk all over my flowers in my flower bed and leave the cuttings for me to remove.  The other side just never cuts theirs at all.  During winter, they form ice on them and hang so low that we can not get into our drive way.  They grow 10 to 20 feet each summer.  In response to Mr. Hatley, 1. Talking to your neighbors does not work.  They find it amusing.  2. I have cut them MYSELF for for the past 10 years, once they get 20 feet tall.  3. WHY should I pay someone to cut something back that doesn't belong to me?  Following YOUR logic, it would be OK if your neighbors dumped their garbage cans in your yard,  I am sure if you talk to them and they don't clean it up, you can do it yourself or if you are too lazy to do it, YOU can hire someone to come clean it up for you.   Solution #4----ROUND-UP.  Problem solved.

Sep 26, 2011 8:32AM
Many vegetables are considered fruits, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and egg plants.  Maybe you can grow fruit in your yard.  Does anyone in the neighborhood have fruit trees in their yards?  Have they already set a precedent for that?  In Portland, OR., we're encouraged to grow gardens in our yards, both front and back. Good luck!!
Sep 26, 2011 6:27AM

What next? South Hampton will jail you because your house is painted the wrong color and your neighbor complains? If the neighbor don't like the hedge intruding onto their property they have three choices: (1) Talk to the neighbor about it. (2) If that does not get them anywhere, cut it themselves. (3) If they are unable to trim it themselves or too lazy to do so, hire someone and their own expense to do so.


I am fairly certain that the offending neighbor does not complain because of the color of the neighbor's house or car. I can see the problem if the offending hedge is blocking part of the entrance to the neighbor's property such as their driveway or doorway, but to complain simply because it is a few inches onto their property? GIVE ME A BREAK! People really need to get a life!

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