Q: I have a neighbor who burns freshly cut and wet grass constantly. The spot she burns in is directly across the street from my house, it’s on the very back corner of her property very far from her house.
The smoke is horrible and the smell is disgusting. It has caused me to have two asthma attacks just this week. I can’t let the kids out to play. We either have to leave the area or stay inside with all the windows closed. The fire lasts for at least a week. It smolders then a wind will come along and it will start kicking up smoke again. The smell lasts the entire week.
We have tried to talk to her but it didn’t do any good. She has at least two acres of yard and she cut her grass almost daily and bags and burns every bit of it. Her burning starts in the early spring and continues through fall.
We live in a neighborhood in the country so there are no city laws that apply to us. The county law states there will be no open burning: “No person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit open burning of refuse composed of animal, fruit, or vegetable matter, garbage, offal, or any other nauseous matter of organic or inorganic matter at any time except within a furnace or incinerator, and then not in a manner which permits the escape or discharge of noxious odors.”
And yet, my neighbor said that the county health department said she could burn as much landscape waste as she wants. Is there anything we can do to stop this? Thank you very much.
A: Why are you taking her version of what the county health department says as the gospel? You already know what the law says, and if what you’ve quoted is accurate, it seems that she should not be burning grass clippings.
Instead of fuming silently, a better idea would be to pay a visit to your county’s health and building departments. Have a conversation in person about what your neighbor is burning and ask them if it is against the law or not. You can provide photos or even a video for them to see. While your neighborhood may be in an unincorporated part of the country, your neighbor should still be subject to county ordinances.
Getting her to follow them may be tougher. You can push the county to enforce its rules and perhaps they will fine your neighbor, but she still may not stop. At that point, you should sit down with a real estate attorney who can advise you as to your legal options, if there are any. In addition to the local ordinance, there may be other laws that your attorney may be aware of that could be used to challenge your neighbor’s burning of her yard waste by your home.
Finally, even if you are right and your neighbor is wrong, you may just have to consider selling and moving if the burning of her yard waste is making you physically ill. The most important consideration should be your good health.