Starting Sunday, we’re back in grass season in the District, where residents are required to keep their property up as to avoid the spread of noxious weeds and whatnot. In DC, beginning May 1st and running through October 31st, owners have to keep their property free from weeds over 10″ in height. That means you’ve got to get your mowers out, and your blades sharpened, and your weed-whackers charged. Fines in the District can reach $500 for not complying, and they’ll just show up and take action if you don’t, and that’s going to cost you extra.
In Montgomery and Arlington counties, you get two extra inches to worry about, but you’ll still be subject to fines and the county coming onto your property and “fixing” the issue. Fairfax had a weed law until about 1976, when it was found to be unconstitutional for limiting expression. The EPA has republished an article from the John Marshall Law Review on Green Landscapes which gives a rich history of these so-called “Weed Laws” (not to be confused with medical marijuana) and why they might be bad for your community.
While I have a personal appreciation for a nice green lawn cut to a precise fringe, I’m not immune to the charms of a xeriscaped yard with native plants, but I recognize that many of those tufted grasses are a lot taller than a foot. Fortunately, the DC regulations specifically exempt “healthy plants, grasses, or shrubbery in tended grounds, gardens, or landscape designed yards, which exceed ten (10) inches in height.” So, as long as you don’t let that native grass get too out of control, you’re good. But how can you tell?
Arlington has decided that it doesn’t care if you’re xeriscaping or working with native grasses, and makes no mention of those things in their law (Arlington County Code, Chapter 10, §10-13), and neither does Fairfax city (Chapter 160, §106-32). Fairfax County is a lot more vague, thanks to the lawsuit mentioned above, Board of Supervisors of Fairfax Co, VA v. Wills and Van Metre,. Inc, 1976, but still maintains a vague “healthy and safety” remark that gives the city a lot more lenience in terms of enforcement.
Certainly I can understand wanting to avoid eye-sore lawns and properties with a surplus of random and unending growth, especially when the foreclosure crisis looms so large in our area. Is this just a question of “I’ll know it when I see it?” Perhaps. But I can definitely think there’s a whole yard business in the wings with flyers that say “want to avoid a $500 fine? Pay us $100 and we’ll get you in compliance!” Offer a volume discount for the banks holding the properties and you’ve got yourself a fine enterprise.
So keep your grass under control this summer DC, lest you find yourself on the receiving end of some giant fines.