Midwest: “We recently paid our first fine ever. Keep in mind that we have 3,000 accounts, have been in business since 1990, and we have never had a ‘fine’ until now. It was a $520 fine.
“Here’s the skinny: July 2007, [our] applicator was applying granular fertilizer to a customer’s lawn, which had no weeds whatsoever. As he put his spreader back onto his truck, the customer came out and said, ‘I want you to spray these weeds growing on the south side of my yard.’ So, he grabbed a spot sprayer and followed the customer to her backyard. As they both walked along the south side of her privacy fence, she pointed out unwanted vegetation (definition of weed) growing over and through her fence. She said, ‘Spray this and spray this.’ So, he sprayed exactly what the customer told him to. Turns out this was all just one plant, her next-door neighbor’s Jackmani clematis. [A] couple days later, we got a phone call from our state. Seems the next door neighbor complained that ‘we killed all of her backyard ornamentals.’ I knew this was bull, so I immediately went out and inspected her backyard ornamentals. No damage whatsoever (except for some dieback of her clematis on the next door neighbor’s side of the property), but a few days later, a state inspector came out to our office. Well, you can guess the rest of the story. We got a fine for $520, even though our customer’s fence was 1 foot inside her property.
“I guess this is one method of acquiring ‘miscellaneous income’ for our state.”
Kansas: “[You] should have taken pictures to show the inspector. Always document things.”
Midwest: “We had an affidavit from our customer as to what happened. (She was present—not the complainant). The state boys always take pics. I admit that we should have told our customer to prune out these weeds (unwanted vegetation) instead of spraying it, but my guy was fairly new. Yet, he followed state guidelines regarding the definition of weeds and their control. We know we got screwed, and we will never forget it.”
Michigan: “If the fence is 1 foot on the inside of the property, then the clematis planted by the neighbor does not belong to her. I would have it surveyed, just based on principle, and fight it. Chemical trespass is one thing, but if you are totally on the property, and totally in the right, that is a different story.”
Midwest: “The clematis vine was growing on our customer’s fence, which was built 1 foot inside her property line. This is why we will never forget the next-door neighbor’s address until justice is done. Keep in mind, I will have no personal involvement as to any future problems with the next door neighbor’s property.”
Delaware: “It sounds like to me, your customer was in the wrong. They directed your guy to spray 1 foot outside of her property onto the neighbor’s property.
“I’m not saying the neighbor is not a jerk for turning you in for what seems like little to no damage, but you know as well as we do that any retaliation will be bad for you in the long run. If they turn you in for that, they will definitely turn you in for something deliberate, and then the fines will be much higher. Be careful, people like that never win.”
Michigan: “That’s just it, that is backwards of what it really is. Midwest said that his customer’s fence is 1 foot on the inside of the customer’s property. So, therefore, 1 foot beyond the fence is still the customer’s property. The neighbor, however, has her clematis vine growing against the customer’s fence, which is on the customer’s property.
“Now, the question would be: is it actually growing from the customer’s property. In other words, is it planted on the customer’s property, or is it growing over to the fence and then up. That is completely different. In that case, even though the vine is intruding over onto the customer’s property, while it can be trimmed and controlled, it cannot be eradicated or altered to the point of demise. Example: You are able to trim the neighbor’s tree branches that are coming over the fence, but only to a degree that it does not kill the tree.
“This is just a bummer deal on Midwest’s side, and I just don’t think it’s right.”
Tennessee: “Then it’s a different situation. If the fence has been in place for more than seven years, then from a purely legal perspective, your customer is considered to have ceded that piece of property to her neighbor. Reason being that under common law, if a landowner’s property is encroached upon, then they have seven years to ‘correct’ the encroachment and make a claim. If they don’t do anything and let it go, then the courts will rule that they have ceded the property to the other party. This negates your theory.”
Michigan: “See, I’m under the impression that it’s the customer’s fence, they just put it inside their (the customer’s) property line for good measure. Then, the next-door neighbor planted their stuff along the fence. So, while it was outside the fence, it was still on the customer’s property.
“Now (here in Michigan anyway), there are certain criteria for a law that is referred to as ‘adverse possession.’ First, the entire encroaching property must be fenced in. Second, the property being taken over must be unoccupied. Third, the property must be listed somewhere of the intent to take over such property (public newspaper, etc.). Fourth, taxes must be paid on such encroached property(s) up to date. There are several others, but they would all have to be looked up.”
Delaware: “It’s pretty standard for fences to be put 1 foot inside the property line. It does not mean that you are giving that 1 foot to the neighbor!”
New York: “Basically, what Michigan said is how the law reads here, too. You can cut and prune an invading plant that is growing onto a property, but that’s it. You can’t use any chemical, systemic or otherwise, to stop the invasive growth.
“The guy behind me started ripping branches off my Japanese maple, not pruning or cutting, ripping them. That can damage my tree, and it’s against the law. I let him know that the next time he did it I would make an official complaint.
“Sorry, I think the fine was overboard, but you can’t go around spraying invasive vegetation from neighboring properties. This is like What Not To Do 101, a prerequisite to Get A Clue 101. This ‘applicator’ doesn’t know this?
“If he killed a 20-year-old honeysuckle, that neighbor could sue, and win. Sounds like time for some in-house training to me. I know, being certified is BS, right?”
Grand Rapids, Michigan: “Ouch, painful lesson. I have done the same thing. Sometimes this results from feuding neighbors. I think I need to review the law in my state.
“I suppose it is too late to appeal, but if you have a chance to get your ag guys or her into court to testify in front of your attorney a few times—worth a shot. I think any judge would agree with you.”
New York: “What is there to appeal? An applicator applied a systemic herbicide to a neighbor’s plant. That is illegal in every state, as far as I know. Just because the homeowner demanded it is not an excusable reason to violate [the] law. The applicator has to know what he can and cannot do, which, in this case, he clearly was clueless.”
Delaware: “I had misread—I was thinking the fence was the neighbor’s and 1 foot inside their property line.
“I agree that the applicator is still at fault, but I think the fine is ridiculous. In Delaware, if it did minor damage to the plant, and it was the first time, you would probably have gotten a warning.
“As far as retraining, he said it was a new applicator. Yes, it’s a good idea to go over the incident with all employees to make sure they do not make the same mistake, but it seems to be an honest rookie mistake, and now he knows. Could of happened to any of us.”
Lexington, Mich.: “In Michigan, this would probably be considered an off-target application. Your invoice must state what was being sprayed and where. Meaning a turf application at the customers address. Any change or additional work like vegetation control would have to be noted. If this was a non-turf area, a right-of-way certification would also be required. When the ‘weeds’ were sprayed, the chemical moved through the plant even if the damage was only on the customer’s property, meaning off-target. I agree for a first-time offense the fine seems a little much. The applicator would also be responsible for the fine in Michigan. While fighting this on principle would be noble, it sure wouldn’t be worth it.”
Midwest: “I chewed [out] our applicator for not using common sense. He should have refused to spray the clematis; he should have suggested the customer prune it off her fence. Problem was, our employee did not know what a clematis was, and our customer was in a feud with her neighbor. The clematis did not die, and it was planted (technically) on our customer’s property. We paid the fine because we never should have sprayed it.
“It is always helpful to have knowledge of woody ornamentals, even if one only treats lawns. We have marked the route card to be very careful near the neighbor’s address. It was a raw deal for all involved, but it was a good lesson for us (more training is needed). Sometimes trying to please the customer is not always the best thing. We could have avoided the whole problem and saved $520.”
Delaware: “I don’t understand why you would have been fined at all if it was on your customer’s property. The base of the plant was in the 1-foot space between the fence and neighbor’s property? If that’s the case, there is no basis for the complaint, the inspector would have known this right away.”
Indiana: “Yeah, something doesn’t make sense. If the clematis was planted on the customer’s property, it’s their right to kill it. Only way I see anything was done wrong is if a right-of-way/ornamental license was needed and the business does not hold them?”
Midwest: “We wondered that, too, that’s why we felt this was a raw deal. Yet, the plant did belong to the neighbor. I guess that’s why the inspector found us at fault. The neighbor does not have a job and has plenty of time on her hands, and she is the head of some local horticultural society, maybe that’s why she called the state pesticide bureau? She also complained that ‘all’ of her backyard plants were dying. The inspector said that was ridiculous. We paid the fine just to appease everyone involved. No plants died, [not] even the Jackmani clematis growing on our customer’s property.
“This was a learning experience for all of us. We never meant any harm. I posted this so all could see.”
Delaware: “Thanks for the post. I work solo, and this will be fresh in my mind when working near property borders, at least for awhile.”
Midwest: “I would have known better, but rookies sometimes do not have the experience to avoid such problems (raw deal). I made this post so all could see—learn something everyday… This event was certainly a learning experience that will not be forgotten.”
New York: “I did not realize the plant was actually on the customer’s property. Now that really is bogus! How can you get fined for that? That’s just plain idiotic.
“I wonder what would happen if it was the customer who treated it? Then who gets spanked? The customer is within their right to treat any plant that is rooted on their property. It’s a weed. An undesirable plant—a pest, as per the strict definition. That inspector simply took it out on you to get these two homeowners appeased. No wonder you hate the regulatory agencies out there, they are idiots.”
Midwest: “We actually appealed this case, but the judgement stood firm. That’s why this July incident took so long to get finished. Bottom line: we try to stay in good with the powers that be. Many are longtime friends via our land-grant university. All is well now. Hope there’s not a next time, but the harder one works, the more mistakes will happen.”
Washington: “You would spend $5,000 to fight a legit, $500 fine.”
Rhode Island: “You should have been fined triple that. You got off easy. It will not happen again.”
Midwest: “After our appeal was turned down, I called the ‘bureau.’ They were unsure of municipal ordinances cuz they vary. He offered to check into it further, but I said it’s not worth it, and hopefully we’ll know better next time. All is well (except the $520 missing out of our checkbook).
“I teach my guys: ‘If in doubt, don’t spray it.’ This has always worked in the past, cuz the customer can always call for a free service call if we miss some weeds. I usually run these calls and can normally figure out what is a weed and what isn’t.”
Massachusetts: “Having a little expertise in real estate—I did have my license for a little bit once upon a time—going back to common law and mineral rights, etc. ‘A property line extends straight up into the sky and straight down into the ground.’ Unless you sell mineral rights, no one can mine under your property, period. The tree branch over the line is your property; it’s not the property of the tree owner. So, having said that, if you killed off what was over the property line of your customer you could fight it, if you killed the whole plant on their side you’re f*****. Keep in mind that the inspector is not a property law expert. If the neighbor’s ants come over and you bait them and they die on their property, did you kill his pet ants? Mosquitoes? Ticks?”
New York: “In New York, there is a mostly ignored regulation that says any fence must be at least 12 inches inside the homeowner’s property line. For those few who observe this law, then anything rooted within that 12-inch boundary is their property. But, then there is also this nonuse seven-year claim, too. Contradictory laws. If you follow one law, with a fence 12 inches within your property, if you don’t ‘use’ that property, and lose it, now your fence is illegal!
“Hello, I am from the government, and I am here to help you.”