I figure they must have a commercial "applicators license" to use
herbicides. Who issues that license?
The bastards treated my neighbor's back yard last week, and they sprayed
2,4-d through the fence and into my vegetable garden. I recognized the
twisted new growth as being herbicide damage before I even found the
little ChemLawn sign in their front yard.
While I was writing down the phone number from the little sign, another
neighbor came by and said he's complained to ChemLawn before about them
leaving Weed-n-Feed granules all over the sidewalk when they were done.
Sorry to hear about your garden. Most states regulate the
lawn care industry but, in most cases, the "safe use" of
herbicides is not done very well. You may also check with
your county, some have some regulations that they must follow.
One way to deal with companies like that is to sue them in
small claims court (sometimes not worth the trouble). If
you have a local TV station that has a "consumer affairs"
person, it may be worth it to call them and see if they will
do a story on them (especially if the lawn company gives you
any "lip", which they OFTEN do).
This would not be worth suing, because I can't really prove much
economic damage, and it's not very spectacular. The plants may or may
not grow out of the damage, and it's just a few plants affected -- all
my yellow squash and maybe a few of my tomatoes and peppers, but the
tomatoes and peppers have just about recovered. Only the squash was
actually sprayed, and a little drift or overspray onto some raspberries.
They must have used an ester formulation rather than amine, and the
tomatoes and peppers just got a whiff of it.
I think I'd get more satisfaction treating this as an EPA thing or a
criminal tresspass issue; I don't think I could get anyone to take the
criminal complaint seriously, but the regulatory issues should fly if I
can find the right agency to complaint to.
I'm having enough trouble this year with rabbits, squirrels, roaming
cats, and cool nights. I don't need this kind of trouble on top of it.
At least the beans look good and they are growing faster than the
rabbits can eat them.
While I like the idea of the TV station's consumer affairs, if they
don't put the right spin on the story (which is likely if the ChemLawn
people jump at the chance to make things right in front of the camera),
it's just free advertising for ChemLawn. On the other hand, if the
consumer affairs reporter puts the right spin on it, the station could
expand it into a story on how organic gardening is now more in favor
than better living through chemicals.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is having a talk with the
neighbors. Tell them how disappointed you are because of ChemLawn, and
show them the damage. They may not be aware that those chemicals aren't
magic chemicals that only do good. Get the right dialog going, and you
can show them ways they can do without the expense of ChemLawn next
year. It won't save this year's veggies, but it may protect future years
Of course call ChemLawn so no one can say you didn't give them a chance
to fix things, but then follow through with complaints to your state's
agriculture department, environmental protection department, any local
county or city departments... well, just about anyone who'll take a
complaint. The complaint may not result in action, but even if they sit
in a file until enough other complaints come in, they doing some good.
A company wide memo telling the sprayers to be careful will help lots of
people. The company suits don't want bad publicity, so they are very
likely to hand down orders 'from on high'.
Nonsense. If the suits cared about these things, they'd hire people who can
tell the difference between dandelions and zucchini. The best thing to do is
keep the local franchise on edge with as much legal terror and bad publicity
as possible. There is no other way. You're dealing with an industry which
has no scruples.
If they have no scruples, then they probably also believe in the old
adage that there is no such thing as *bad* publicity.
"Bad" publicity puts your name in front of people who haven't heard it
"Bad" publicity lets people know that someone does the service that they
"Bad" publicity raises awareness of you in the market place.
The only way this "bad" publicity will hurt them is if existing
customers cancel their contracts (which they probably can't). The *bad*
publicity is likely to get them new customers. Why? Because not everyone
will be sympathetic with the protagonist in our story. There will be
people out there who'll say, "This guy was an idiot to plant his
vegetables so close to the property line. You know, I need help with my
lawn. I think I'll call them."
If you're going to take this into the court of public opinion, before
you give the company _any_ publicity, you need to raise awareness about
the harm their sprays do, and how the alternatives are less expensive,
easier, and more effective. You have to get the court of public opinion
to get on your side before you give the company publicity.
As long as there is a significant number of people out there who still
believe in better lawns through chemicals, the *bad* publicity you give
the company isn't going to hurt them, nor will it help you. It'll do
nothing for you, and help them become better known. Free advertising
thanks to you.
Before taking anything to the court of public opinion, you need to stop
and think about how other people think. There are plenty of people out
there who don't think logically. There are plenty of people who have
opinions other than you. There are plenty of people who'll get the wrong
message unless you know how to spin things right.
You can't just toss a couple of facts out there, and hope people will
come to the right conclusion. You must prep them to come to that
conclusion long before you reveal the facts of the situation. And in
this case, every time people go to the Home and Garden sections of
retailers, they see plenty of chemicals. The court of public opinion is
being swayed to believe that chemicals are normal. You have to change
that nearly completely before your complaint against ChemLawn will gain
enough favor in the court of public opinion to actually hurt ChemLawn. A
majority opinion isn't enough. Those with the minority opinion are still
potential customers for ChemLawn, and your case is not *bad* publicity.
It's advertising for them.
Talk to the neighbors. Talk to the company. Report the company to any
agency that will listen. But don't take it to the court of public
opinion, and don't use that as a threat when talking to the company.
Instead, if you really feel the need to address the court of public
opinion, start by showing the benefits of not using chemicals. In a few
years, public opinion may shift, and ChemLawn will loose customers.
Don't just jump out there and start giving them free advertising now.
See my other post. Trespass is the way to go. You'll need to show pictures
to a judge, indicating that since your vegetables are near the property
line, Chem Lawn cannot spray anywhere near that line. Get on this
It's unlikely that you'll be able to get any sort of monetary reward for
your plants. But, keep in mind that it's probably not safe to eat anything
from the ones which recover, at least during this season. For more about
this, contact your state's environmental department.
Getting money from them isn't the point. The point is that they have to
pay someone (not a lawyer) to go to small claims court and deal with the
issue. This should result in a company-wide memo warning their sprayers
to avoid gardens.
This will not only keep it from happening to you again, it'll help a
whole lot of other gardeners.
***IMMEDIATELY*** call your town hall when they open on Monday morning and
find out what your judge needs (paperwork, photographs, etc) in order to
charge the spray service with civil trespass. You can include the neighbor,
too, if they become beligerent about the situation. I went through this
successfully about 4 years ago here in Rochester NY.
If anyone wants to start a debate about whether this qualifies as trespass,
please save your energy. This is not a guess or a theory on my part. Our
local judge was prepared to issue an injunction to keep my neighbor from
allowing Chem Lawn to spray along our property border. He told me to inform
my neighbor and the spray company that the police would be ordered to arrest
them on the spot if the stupidity continued. This did the trick nicely.
Unfortunately, lawn spray companies will hire anything with a driver's
license during the busy season. Doesn't matter how stupid they are, and they
most definitely ARE stupid.
Interestingly, this is a subsidized house owned by the county. The
county owns and maintains it and rents it out to poor people. I'm
pretty sure the county hires the lawn service, not the occupant -- so I
would be injoining the sheriff. <g>
The county attorney's office is who I'll call first about the civil
Doug Kanter wrote:
Oh, I can't pass this up.
Trespass is defined by state statute. What's true in New York may not be
A few years ago there was some debate about some guy in New York being
arrested at a shopping center for something or another. In the middle of
that debate I decided to go to the horse's mouth, and read the New York
statutes. They were quite different than other states. As I recall there
were even degrees of trespass, some being civil, and others being
As for going down to the "town hall" to get a judge, that's a bit of a
unique thing by area as well. When I lived in Wisconsin, nearly every
incorporated municipality had a court. Out here in Oregon, few do. In
both places, you don't just go down and get to see a judge. You have to
file a motion, and be placed on a docket or calendar. And when you file
your motion, you need to specify which particular law is being broken,
and how. If you are seeking a remedy, you're going to need to specify
that as well. Unless you're really savvy, and have some time on your
hands, you're going to need a lawyer to get through this process.
You may also find that in many places cases like this (involving little
monetary damage, and not likely to be an immediate danger to health or
safety) your case will be diverted from the court system to mediation.
If running down to town hall, and showing a judge some pictures that
morning works were you are, then that's a viable option. I'd have to say
you're in the minority.
Also, since the OP has added the information that the house is owned by
the county, and rented, it probably wouldn't even be as simple as your
situation even if that unique option was available. In most places a
municipal judge doesn't have jurisdiction to order the county to do
The court system is seldom the answer to neighbor disputes. And it
certainly should never be the first thing anyone tries.
Yes. The laws elsewhere may be different. Naturally, this doesn't mean it's
not worth investigating while there's still a smoking gun, so to speak.
Perhaps, but at most courthouses, there'll be a clerk who knows what he/she
is talking about, and that person can provide the guidance necessary to get
things on track quickly. I was lucky. The judge happened to be my son's
baseball coach, so I didn't need a middleman for advice. He just said "do x,
y and z and you're in business". He said the civil trespass laws were often
interpreted to include all sorts of "lively objects" entering another
person's property, like chemicals, stray baseballs, and especially dogs.
There *is* an immediate danger to health. A food crop has been contaminated
with a chemical which cannot be demonstrated as safe.
A guess on your part, but it's a free country.
In my situation, the neighbor had been told several times that the spray
company was being careless. The neighbor's response: "If the stuff's not
safe, how come they're allowed to sell it?" In cases of stupidity, nothing
works except a bucket of ice cold water, in a legal sense. You're right to
say that the legal avenue should be a last resort. But, in order for a
neighbor to understand the dangers of certain chemicals, they must possess a
certain level of education and intellect. In my situation, this was not the
With total respect to all of the previous responses (which included good
suggestions), I offer the following.
Your neighbor may not even have been aware of what they were doing (though
the word "Chem" in their name ought to be telling). Do talk to your
neighbor about the issue.
Additionally . . .
If you are inside city limits, take your concerns to City Council. Have
your comments prepared in writing to give them a written copy (and to
ensure you say what you intend to say). There is often a time limit of 3
minutes for each citizen, so clarify prior to attending.
If not inside the city limits, take it to the County Commission, same way.
In most communities in our electronic age, all meetings are taped and
shown on the local city/county televisions channels. You are most
definitely not the only one in your community concerned about this. The
more people that speak up about it, the more chance of something being
I see your issues as including:
- Damage to your previously chemical-free garden. If you wanted chemicals,
you'd buy at the grocery store. The chemicals drifting into your garden
are now a permanent part of your soil and the food grown in it; they can
say they dissipate all they want to . . . they go somewhere! (I say that
as a downwinder from Hanford's 1950s "harmless" radioactive releases!)
- There is potential damage to anyone with breathing problems or immune
system problems with the spray drifting into your yard or onto public
- There is potential damage to small children playing in your yard,
especially at the time of spraying. Their systems are not as able to deal
with this type of thing as an adult . . . don't let anyone ever tell you
that "there is no harm" because no one knows!
Approach it all in a very logical and professional (unemotional) manner
with facts, not opinions. The time for the opinion is at the end when you
summarize but have it all supported with previous facts, which are
primarily your property did receive a chemical which you did not authorize
and you have damage as a result, as well as concerns.
I can assure you if this were my yard, my 3-year-old and 5-year-old
granddaughters would very much figure into how I handled this. I would
include a letter to the neighbor voicing my complaint and concerns, as
well as one to the City Manager, the Mayor, and each member of City
Council. The offending company would also get a letter as would the
County Health Department. In other words, no possible responder would be
forgotten, and this would get as much attention as I could have it get.
No one has the moral right to spray chemicals onto your property, either
accidently or purposefully. All chemicals intended for spraying include
cautions about drifting/air movement direction, so the applicators cannot
claim ignorance. The only sure way to ensure against drifting is to not
spray the stuff.
Nearly 20 years ago, I hired someone to mow the lawn at the office. A few
days later, I noticed the grass dying around the planter under my sign as
well as next to the sidewalk. I confronted him about this. He had put a
weed-killer (casaron) on my lawn with neither my permission nor my
knowledge. Needless to say, he did no more work for me. The worst part
of it was that he really didn't feel he did anything inappropriate,
pouring poison onto my property. In my simple mind, mowing and spreading
a toxic agent is not the same thing.
Good luck and my sympathies to your plants.
One thing I was unclear of from your post: did you actually see the
ChemLawn guy spraying or do you just have a strong suspicion? (I'm not
doubting that it happened as you say it did, but I also know that in court
you'd need more than strong circumstantial evidence in a situation like
If you have the equipment and can estimate when they'll be returning, it
might be worth setting up something that would videotape them completing the
A friend of mine used to use our local ChemLawn company to do his yard. His
neighbor worked for the FBI. One day while the neighbor was working at home
he saw the ChemLawn guy drive up, get out of the vehicle, write up a bill,
and place it on the customer's door. He never actually did any kind of
service. Rather than drop the company upon finding out about this, he
arranged some video equipment he had to tape when the company came out the
next time and had a videotape showing a repeat of the previous occurence.
It's amazing how quickly one can get a refund for all money paid when the
company is presented with clear video evidence.
I have strong circumstantial evidence, but IMHO physical evidence is
stronger than the testimony of one eye witness. Ideally, I would have
videotape, or physical evidence plus a half-dozen eye witnesses... but
if I'd known ahead of time that this was going to happen I could have
confronted the guy.
I like the idea of catching him on video next time, but I don't have the
means to do that. I may try to find out when they are coming back to
this neighborhood and plan to be home that day.
Meanwhile, I can complain to whoever issued their business license,
franchise, pesticide license, etc. If any of these are suspended for a
while, they could lose a lot of customers when they can't fullfill their
season-long lawn service contracts.
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