Unmowed grass, outdoor fires can lead to disputes between neighbors

Knee-high by the Fourth of July is fine, if you're talking about corn. But if you live in Fargo, West Fargo or Moorhead and the grass in your yard is taller than 8 inches, you may be wading into expensive territory and ticking off neighbors to boot.

Unmowed lawn
Grass and weeds crowd a sidewalk running through a vacant lot near Eighth Avenue and 32nd Street North in Fargo. City rules dictate that grass be no taller than 8 inches. Dave Olson / The Forum

Knee-high by the Fourth of July is fine, if you're talking about corn.

But if you live in Fargo, West Fargo or Moorhead and the grass in your yard is taller than 8 inches, you may be wading into expensive territory and ticking off neighbors to boot.

All three cities have ordinances limiting lawn height to 8 inches, and noxious weeds must be eradicated. If grass and weeds grow taller than 8 inches, property owners may get a warning to do something about it.

If warnings aren't heeded, the cities hire contractors to cut the grass and bill the cost to the property owner.Moorhead tacks on a $100 administrative fee. Fargo charges a $25 fee, and West Fargo charges $50.

Many times, a neighbor is the one to bring attention to a situation.


City officials encourage residents to work out solutions themselves when there is a dispute about lawn care, but it seldom solves the problem, according to Miles Schacher, environmental health practitioner for the city of Fargo.

"I always tell people it's better sometimes to talk to your neighbors and find out what's going on, as opposed to having a neighborhood dispute because they feel they were turned in by their neighbor," said Schacher.

Dandelion whine

Schacher estimated that Fargo averages 400 to 500 complaints a year regarding grass and noxious weeds, but he said few situations reach the point where a contractor has to be called in.

He said of about 60 complaints he has handled himself so far this summer, four resulted in a contractor getting sent out to mow.

"It's not a lot. Most people are pretty receptive," he said.

To the disappointment of many who complain about them, dandelions are not considered noxious weeds and cities don't require controlling them, unless they exceed the 8-inch height rule.

This past May, Moorhead was getting eight to 10 dandelion complaints a day, though the pace is tapering off, according to Mary Schmitt, office specialist with the city.


Some of those who complain about overgrown lawns can turn impatient when grass isn't cut, according to Schmitt.

"We have had people who say, 'I'm just going to go do it myself, and I'll bill the city,' '' she said.

"I've never seen an actual bill come in," added Schmitt.

Robert Shanholts doesn't take his displeasure that far.

Shanholts hasn't even complained to the city about an overgrown lot at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 32nd Street North in Fargo and not far from his house.

"We just talk to each other about it," said Shanholts, referring to others who live near the grassy lot Shanholts described as "a rat's nest."

A neighbor who declined to give his name said he has complained in the past to the city about the lot, which he said fell into neglect after a church on the property was torn down a number of years ago.

He said junk is accumulating in the tall grass and he worries what might happen to a mower that tries to cut the towering stalks.


"I wouldn't take my John Deere in there," he said.

Schacher said the city has received a complaint about the property and is attempting to contact the owner.

A warning letter was recently returned as undeliverable. Schacher said additional efforts will be made to notify the owner something must be done to the lot.

Ire department

Besides lawn care, another potential source of summertime friction between neighbors is the outdoor fire.

Moorhead Fire Marshal Rich Duysen gets about 10 to 15 calls a month from people wondering what is legal and what is not.

He said three to four of those calls usually involve neighborhood disputes.

Duysen said if the fire is reasonable in size and precautions are taken to prevent smoke or flames from spreading, there usually isn't a problem.


However, even when rules are followed campfires can create trouble between neighbors.

When that happens, the Fire Department can ask that a blaze be extinguished.

"We have to determine there is an objectionable situation, something we could see that would definitely bother an individual," said Duysen, adding, "That doesn't happen very often."

The situation is similar in Fargo, according to Fire Marshal Norm Scott.

Scott estimated that he gets one or two campfire complaints a month in the summer.

He said burning wood that isn't completely dry, which tends to create smoke, creates problems on breezy days.

"Smoke drifts into the neighbor's windows, or what have you. They don't like it, so they call me.

"If it's a nuisance, we can ask them to put the fire out," said Scott.

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