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.
We'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.
So then could your neighbor require you to collect and return fruit from the trees that overhang and fall onto your property?
Sounds like medieval times are back. I'd move from there in a hurry.
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.
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!
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.