Residential living has done well to help advance civility and common courtesy, largely thanks to the perfect mix of privacy from and proximity to our neighbors. However, it fails to mask that, at our cores, we are still territorial beasts. Today we talk about one of the constant sparks of a skirmish: a certain little grass patch.
The grass patch between the sidewalk and the curb, or “road verge”, belongs to the local city or town government in most cases. US law permits city and town municipalities to make their own regulations and by-laws on this issue. The homeowner does have a responsibility to maintain a verge, with said by-laws also setting a standard of how this will be done.
We go deeper into some of the property laws governing this issue. The eternal squabbles of the private citizen and the local government continually bubble under the surface too. Such a fuss over such a (usually) little patch? Let’s find out more.
Who Owns The Grass Patch Between The Sidewalk And The Curb?
The grass patch between the sidewalk and curb outside your home (also known as a road verge, boulevard, hell strip, median, or parkway) belongs to your local city or town municipality…in most cases. US law allows for different municipalities to govern this subject in any way they choose.
Most choose to have ultimate authority over that little region, which leaves homeowners without recourse if they feel infringed by any government (or government-sanctioned) activity on it.
A quick example for you. In cases where an installation crew from an internet service provider were to dig up the grass patch (crushing your carefully nurtured hydrangeas in the process), you would have no recourse, I’m afraid.
In fact, the internet company would have sought a permit from the local government offices, not from the homeowner. The same thing applies to water and electrical utility companies when they repair faults or make new installations.
Of course, the government does leave you with the responsibility of taking care of the verge. This includes maintenance of the grass, as well as any other flora. You are also prohibited from cutting down trees without a permit from your municipality. In many cases, you are only permitted to prune encroaching and overhanging branches that cross your actual property borderline.
Where Does Your Property Begin And End?
As we’ve already discussed, each city and town in the United States have the freedom to govern the road verge area in any way it chooses. Most cities and towns opt to have total control of the goings-on where this curbside area is concerned. However, the positioning of your property line is the main determinant of where the government’s influence can begin.
Property lines are essentially where your property “officially” begins and ends. Your property is part of a large plan within your city, town, or county administration.
You should be in possession of your property’s plat map as this is the most precise way to pinpoint the position of your property line. If you do not have a plat map, you can obtain one from your county assessor’s offices.
It may be easy to assume that the property line runs along your fence (if you have one) but this would not be as reliable as you might think. A better approach would be to locate your property pins, metal bars that are placed on property lines by survey crews when a house is to be built. These pins are per the city or town’s plat planning and a typical platted property has these on all corners of the property border.
Thankfully, property pins can be located in various ways nowadays. The first (and perhaps easiest) way is to simply ask your neighbor, especially if they have lived in the neighborhood longer than you.
The location of your neighbors’ property pins is a good indicator of where your own pins may lie, especially if your properties are in a suburban residential area. If you are really lucky, you might have a few neighbors who witnessed your property’s construction and where the survey crews installed the pins.
A quick examination of your sidewalk may reveal the location of your property pins. Pay close attention to any cut lines in the concrete specifically. The contractors responsible for pouring the concrete may have used the property pins as a guide for when to start and stop pouring.
Another approach to finding your home’s property pins is to use a metal detector. These can be rented from a local hardware store or purchased from Amazon.
If you received any of the neighbor tips discussed above, start looking where you have been directed. If not, it is recommended that you start by hovering the metal detector above the road-side edge of the sidewalk and slowly walking towards your home. As a foundational feature, property pins are buried underground (up to a foot deep) during construction and over time. Any metal detector worth its salt should easily pick them up.
Once you are certain of the location of the property pins, it’s time to start digging. However, before you do, you need to know that there is more than just property pins down there. Various utility lines (such as water pipes, power cables, fiberoptic lines, etc.) can also be close to the property pin.
If you are not careful, you may end up damaging them. Naturally, this will initiate a series of headaches for you and culminate in a potentially hefty fine by the utility company (not to mention some annoyed neighbors).
Let’s zoom our focus on a city after my own heart: West Des Moines, Iowa. This city, formerly known as “Valley Junction”, has undergone several changes in its residential areas over the years since its official founding in 1893. The heart of the Hawkeye State embraces the old just as affectionately as it does the new, and this may leave room for some interesting loopholes.
One of the significant changes included the change in subdivision sizes. The rise of the automobile was the chief driving (no-pun) factor for this. As more and more cars hit the American streets, the roads that used to be sufficient for horses and carriages were suddenly too small.
To combat this and facilitate wider roads, the US Land’s offices reduced the sizes of new subdivisions. As a result of this, there are situations where properties based on older subdivision rules have property pins (and, as a result, property lines) under the tarmac!
What Are The Homeowner’s Responsibilities?
Road verges, as we have already seen, are property of the city or town because they are an extension of the road (legally speaking). However, local governments still require relevant homeowners to take care of the patch of verge that runs alongside their properties. Citizens are tasked with doing their best to uphold their community’s aesthetic beauty, in addition to preventing any social hindrances stemming from a lack of maintenance.
Many cities across the U.S. allow homeowners to customize and decorate the road verges next to their properties with various décor items and landscaping.
Of course, it is always wise to check with your local authorities before spending a fortune on exotic plants and all. You must have a clear understanding of what you can and cannot change because some cities are stricter about this issue than others.
The homeowner also has an inherent interest in a well-maintained curb area. First impressions matter and a lot of homeowners know this. Of course, it is usually an extension of our vanity and sense of pride, but there are potential economic benefits to this too.
The initial impressions made by a road verge can also have a direct impact on the overall value of your property. Heck, it could even affect the property values of all the houses in your street. Imagine having your home be undervalued by tens of thousands of dollars just because of some unsightly and patchy lawn.
We all know that the “leave it to the government” approach is not always a winning recipe. Some municipalities, especially small ones, are severely underfunded and understaffed, and services such as boulevard maintenance may suffer as a consequence. For the sake of visually pleasing neighborhoods, homeowners could shoulder some of the burden by taking care of these areas. This could be done on an individual level or collectively as neighborhoods or homeowners’ associations.
Road Verges Can Also Present A Wide Range Of Problems To The Homeowner, The Government, And The General Public.
Invasive plants and weeds, for example, can pose a threat to any desirable flora they cross paths with.
Unkempt bushes and tall grass can easily block motorists’ and cyclists’ lines of sight, especially around corners.
Poorly maintained lawns might also attract house pests like ticks that can affect your pets and kids. Lyme’s disease, which is carried and spread by ticks, is currently on the rampage in the US, so any efforts to stop it can go a long way.
People with mobility issues, such as the wheelchair-bound, can be restricted further by obstacles (i.e., by fallen branches, encroaching grass) along the sidewalk.