Laws Govern Gardening

​With interest growing in organic and plant-based diets, sustainable gardening and eco-friendly lifestyles, more and more homeowners and renters are converting their "piece of America" from a traditional urban or suburban yard into a food-production space. The process of planting, cultivating and harvesting vegetables and other gardening labor is not always completely rewarding, though, and sometimes legal issues can even arise.

Q: Are there any laws covering what a gardener can do?
A: Yes. Gardeners use their green thumbs in a variety of settings, and there are laws covering many gardening activities and related work, depending on where you are gardening: your home, condominium or apartment, or a community garden.

Q: What restrictions should I know about when planting a vegetable garden or other garden?
A: If you own your own home in a residential community, your municipality likely has ordinances covering most aspects of your gardening activity. Some communities might consider a garden in the front yard to be unsightly, for example, and might regulate the location and size of a garden, just as there are ordinances concerning the length of grass or the presence of weeds in your lawn and the location, height and appearance of your privacy fence. 

The city is unlikely to get involved unless a neighbor complains, so you might consider approaching your neighbor​ first if you have any doubts about whether your garden encroaches on a neighbor’s line, or whether the wire fence you strung might be an eyesore to some, for example. Disputes too often escalate into lawsuits when one person's cultivation of nature turns into another person's "nuisance." Even though your overzealous neighbor might have shrubs, gardens, fruit trees or other plantings that partially cross your property line, it is wise not to personally remove or trim any growth from these plantings without providing your neighbor with sufficient written notice. Your local library or city hall should have reference copies of local ordinances, if they are not available online. Ordinances typically regulate the height of fences and hedges as well as the required distance from the property line; responsibility for the tree lawn or "devil strip"; compost piles; and piles of yard waste like brances and logs.

Q: What if I rent a home or live in an apartment or condominium?
A: If you are gardening on property your landlord owns, or someone else controls through regulations like condominium or homeowners’ association rules, you have less freedom to plant where and what you like. A few vegetable plants might not annoy your landlord or draw the attention of the condo board, but a sunflower garden might be another story.

Q: What about community garden restrictions?
A: One of the benefits of a community garden is to share space and advice with fellow residents, but sometimes conflicts can arise. Rare though it might be, theft of vegetables can be infuriating. But you are unlikely to have much success in bringing a formal complaint to the authorities. The presence of animals sometimes causes disputes, also, as gardeners might disagree about methods of deterrence. It’s best to know before joining a community garden what rules might exist. 

All of Ohio’s big cities have had successful urban community garden programs. You can learn more about these online or through your local garden center or city hall. Many larger cities also have free classes on the technical skills, leadership training, and horticulture education involved in community gardening. Prices for a small-to-average sized plot range anywhere from no cost to $40 or more per year. Some cities fund community gardens through block grant monies and give gardeners the tools and seeds to begin planting. Wherever you might choose to garden, a healthy respect for the environment, local rules and ordinances, and the opinions of your neighbors may be just as important as watering and staking those plants.

1/12/2015

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Tim Puin of Janik LLP in Cleveland. 

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.

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