Dear PoPville – Are Residents Required to Trim Their Shrubs?

Dear PoPville,

Over the last few weeks the block of 13th Street between Logan Circle and Q street on the eastern side of the street has become overgrown with shrubs. The shrubs are growing from the yard of a private residence. They have now grown to the point where its difficult to walk up the sidewalk without ducking to avoid the shrubs. Do you know if the District has any regulations that require private homeowners to maintain their greenery that abuts or extends over public property?

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  • Related question: Is it my responsibility to mow the grass in the tree box in front of my house?

      • so let me get this straight: i just had a treebox installed in front of my house too. i didn’t ask for the treebox, they just put it in. now i have to go out and spend my own money on a lawnmower (which i have no space to store), hire someone to cut it, or spend a half hour with some clippers cutting it like hair. this sucks

        • You could always throw mulch onto it, which would keep out the grass/weeds.

          Or, if you’re particularly irate and hate nature, pour a lot of weedkiller all over it and nothing will grow there. Problem solved! 🙂

          • Landscape fabric + mulch will do that same job and look nice, too, without adding a bunch of chemicals to the bay.

        • Having to care for a small amount of public, shared space is part of owning a house in a city. You’ve got to shovel the sidewalk, and you’ve got to keep the grass trimmed.

        • plant lariope and mulch it. It looks nice, covers the dog poop, and is largely maintenance free.

          • Liriope is truly a miracle plant! You can’t kill it; it does well in sun, shade, whatever; and the variegated variety is pretty year-round.

        • So let me get this straight – you would prefer your street to be a blank slab of endless concrete with no trees, shrubs, flowers or plants?

          • i just want to have to go out and buy a weedeater for a 3 foot by 3 foot space. i could give a hoot for what the sidewalk looks like

        • It’s the cost of city living. Get a battery-powered weedeater.

        • saf

          I don’t understand this statement “i just had a treebox installed in front of my house”

          Are we talking about the same thing? The space between the sidewalk and the curb? How would they install this?

          • what don’t you get? look at the picture. see the rectangle with the tree in it? it’s called a treebox. before, there was just bricks. then they cut into the bricks, removed a whole bunch of them, planted a tree, and put grass on the sides. installed.

          • DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration has a program that was initially funded by stimulus through which they remove excess concrete in right-of-ways, triangle parks, and some school grounds to create better rooting conditions for existing trees, more tree planting locations, more green space, and less stormwater runoff.

          • saf

            Thanks ufa.

            Well David, I was picturing the typical Petworth sidewalk, where it’s concrete, rather than bricks, and the treeboxes have been there since the sidewalk went in. I couldn’t figure out how they would have done that.

        • Dude, just get a cheap mechanical mower or weed wacker off Craigslist. Not that big a deal. And enjoy a little more green in your life.

    • In addition to the Tree regulations, there is also DCMR 21-702, which states that you “shall maintain in clean condition” the area from your property line to 18″ into the street, which would include the grass. This is the law DDOT (and under them, Urban Forestry) cites when saying it’s your responsibility to take care of your tree & tree box and not theirs.

  • Just waiting for Jamie from the alcohol thread to tell anyone who cares about the length of their neighbor’s shrubs to get the f*ck out of his city.

  • Same issue in front of 15 Logan Circle.

    • Also on P between the circle and 14th. There’s a little alley next to Studio Theatre and it’s difficult to see cars coming through there because a bush is totally overgrown and blocking it from the sidewalk (if you’re heading west) on P. Some cars barrel through the alley like it’s a drag racing track. Had some close calls.

    • I’m not sure but I thought that property was vacant? I’m referring to 15 Logan Circle, could be wrong, though.

  • Does the property in question belong to a hipster or long-time resident?

    • Just out of curiosity – does it make a difference?

    • Are those the only two options for homeowners in the District?

      If yes, god help me. I haven’t been here long enough to be a long-time resident, which makes me a hi– a hips–no, I can’t type it.

    • The neighbors in Hill East with worse shrubs than these are either very wealthy or live in MD and rent their properties to hipsters.

    • Can you be a hipster and a longtime resident?

  • ah

    1) Yes, the owner is responsible for keeping bushes trimmed so that they do not project more than 6″ into the sidewalk. They also may not be more than 3 feet high. 24 DCMR Section 102.4

    2) On grass in the tree space, that is not your responsibility. You are responsible only for the “public parking”, which is the area between the property line and the edge of sidewalk closer to your property. 24 DCMR 102.8

    • The city claims differently, though they don’t cite any laws:

      [i]As spring approaches, the grass and weeds will begin to grow again. It is the law that the treebox space in front and around your property be maintained. The grass must not exceed 10′ inches in height. If you choose to beautify the treebox area, there are limitations. The treebox beautifacation area must not be more than four ft (4 ft.) wide and nine feet (9 ft.) long. A beautification area shall not be planted within four feet (4 ft.) of a parking meter or a fire hydrant.

      Failure of maintaining your treebox area is a detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the public. Additionally, failure to adhere to these guidlines can result in a Notice of Violation and the costs of the abatement assesed against the owner of the premises.

      Let’s keep our city clean and green for the Spring![/i]

      • ah

        I would be shocked, SHOCKED, if someone in the DC government asserted something without a legal basis.

        Anyway, if I were cited for it I would point them to 24 DCMR 109, which allows for the beautification of tree spaces, and then places some limits on that. I would tell them that if you haven’t beautified the tree space yourself you therefore have no responsibility for its upkeep.

        All that said, I’d hope people would take care of that space and make it look nice, just like I hope they shovel the snow off the sidewalk.

    • Thanks for this info (and the citations of the regulations!).

      I guess I’m surprised by #2. My block has a grassy/weedy margin (about 18 inches wide, I think) between the curb and the sidewalk. Except for small square concrete areas that go directly from the curb to the sidewalk (about one per house), it’s like that for the whole block.

      (I think some (older?) blocks have a greater proportion of paved sidewalk, and only small patches of grass/treebox.)

      I always assumed that most portions of this grassy/weedy margin looked like crap because people weren’t maintaining the sections in front of their houses… but it’s actually the city’s responsibility, not theirs? In that case, the city has been doing a pretty poor job.

      (BTW, a Canadian friend of mine insists that that space between the curb and sidewalk is called a “verge,” but I’ve never heard the term before or since.)

      • ah

        Verge is a British term I think, but one might get that from a Canadian. I had always thought it was roughly like an unpaved shoulder–i.e., between road and sidewalk but without a curb to separate it from the road.

    • That isn’t just for the historic district? I thought the only law was that shrubs and trees can’t pose a hazard, which is undefined.

    • Is there a law about tree branch height? There’s a house at E and Kentucky SE that has very low hanging branches (only about 5 feet off the ground) over the whole width of the sidewalk–they could knock out someone in the dark or a blind person anytime.

    • Here are the full regs:
      24 DCMR § 102D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 24, § 102102. PUBLIC PARKING: UPKEEP AND PLANTINGS
      102.1 The public parking on streets and avenues of the District of Columbia shall be under the immediate care and keeping of the owners or occupants of the premises abutting on the public parking.
      102.2 No person shall use any parking for the purpose of drying clothes or other laundry.
      102.3 No hedges shall be planted on public parking without a permit from the District. The same fee shall be charged as for parking fences.
      102.4 Hedges on parking shall not exceed three feet (3 ft.) in height, nor project more than six inches (6 in.) over the sidewalk. On corner properties, if hedges are placed at the back of the sidewalk, they must be planted not more than ten inches (10 in.) above the sidewalk grade.
      102.5 The Mayor is authorized to issue permits, without charging a fee, to erect tree markers of concrete or stone in tree spaces. The markers shall not be less than six inches (6 in.) nor more than eight inches (8 in.) square, or in excess of eight inches (8 in.) in height. They shall be driven firmly into the ground, and placed as directed by the Director of the Department of Public Works.
      102.6 No tree marker shall be placed between a tree and a corner crosswalk. A metal plate may be placed on the upper surface of each marker, if it bears appropriate inscription and is securely fastened.
      102.7 No person shall deposit or cause to be deposited any dirt, grass, or other yard refuse on any public sidewalk, tree space, roadway, or alley, from any public parking under the immediate care and keeping of the owner or occupant of the premises that abut the sidewalk, tree space, roadway, or alley.
      102.8 For purposes of this section, “public parking” means that area of public space devoted to open space, greenery, parks, or parking that lies between the property line, which may or may not coincide with the building restriction line, and the edge of the actual or planned sidewalk that is nearer to the property line, as the property line and sidewalk are shown on the records of the District.
      D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 102

      And here are the regs on “Tree Spaces”
      24 DCMR § 109D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 24, § 109109. BEAUTIFICATION OF TREE SPACESCurrentness109.1 The regulations contained in this section shall apply to the unpaved area of public space that lies between the street curb and the sidewalk, which is commonly reserved by the District government for planting trees.109.2 The beautification of tree spaces shall be governed by the provisions of this section.109.3 The beautification of tree spaces shall not require a permit.109.4 The owner or occupant of property that abuts tree space shall not be liable for injuries to others as a result of a tree space beautification activity that complies with this section. Tree space beautification shall be undertaken solely at the personal risk and expense of the owner or occupant.109.5 The District government reserves the right to enter tree space without the permission of the owner or occupant of the property that abuts the tree space.109.6 The beautification of a tree space may be undertaken at the discretion of the owner or occupant of the property that abuts the tree space, and shall be under the immediate care and keeping of the owner or occupant of the property that abuts the tree space.109.7 The beautification of a tree space shall not extend beyond the following requirements:(a) Extend over the curb or the sidewalk;(b) Extend within three feet (3 ft.) of a crosswalk or paved bus stop landing;(c) Extend within six feet (6 ft.) of an entrance to an alley; or(d) Extend within six feet (6 ft.) of a street corner.109.8 In a continuous tree space, beautification areas shall be not more than four feet (4 ft.) wide and nine feet (9 ft.) long. At least six feet (6 ft.) shall separate each beautified area. A beautification area shall not be planted within four feet (4 ft.) of a parking meter or a fire hydrant.109.9 A tree space may be bordered by a continuous barrier on the three (3) sides that do not abut the curbline. The barrier may project not less than four inches (4 in.) and not more than twelve inches (12 in.) from the sidewalk or curb elevation. The use of wickets to edge or border a tree space shall be prohibited.109.10 The grade of the tree space shall not be altered in conjunction with a beautification effort, except with mulch. The use of gravel as ground cover shall be prohibited.109.11 Planting material used to beautify a tree space shall have a shallow root system and shall not be allowed to grow to a height in excess of eighteen inches (18 in.). The growing of vegetables in a tree space shall be prohibited.109.12 A tree space beautification effort may be removed or destroyed with sufficient notice by the District government or its agents, if removal or destruction is made necessary by construction, repair, or maintenance activities.109.13 A tree space beautification effort that is not in compliance with this section, or that is inadequately maintained or allowed to deteriorate may be removed with sufficient notice by the Department of Public Works.109.14 This section shall not be construed to supersede the provisions of chapter 11 of Title 24 of the D. C. Municipal Regulations.

      D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 109

      • “On corner properties, if hedges are placed at the back of the sidewalk, they must be planted not more than ten inches (10 in.) above the sidewalk grade.”

        What does this mean?

        Is the “back of the sidewalk” the land that abuts the sidewalk or the land that is nearest to the house?

        Does 10 in. above sidewalk grade mean that if the land is already more than 10 in. above sidewalk grade that NO plants can be planted in that public space between the house and the corner sidewalk?

      • My neighbor in lower 16th St. Heights trimmed her tree box with railroad ties on all four sides that are about 8 inches tall. She then filled it with stones and put giant planters on top. There is no tree in the middle and no way to open your passenger side door if you park next to it. Been there for years, for all I know.

  • I seem to recall several years ago a neighbor in Mt. P getting a ticket from DPW for not maintaining their shrubbery. (?)

  • Trim that bush!

  • My neighbor in Mt.P has a overgrown rose bush, the portion that is overgrown almost reaches the tree close to the road completely blocking the whole sidewalk. Did I mention it has thorns? They are long-time residents, not group house denizens

  • Unless the house is an obviously neglected property, perhaps your neighbors who live there have just been too busy/distracted to tend to their duty. How about you go up and knock on the door and talk to them?

  • I live at the house…landlord is very bad at responding to requests. I have texted/called/emailed him a number of times about the bushes. THe house doesn’t have trimmers or I would do it myself.

    If anyone in the neighborhood wants to lend a pair I would gladly do it today

    • I live in the neighborhood and would be happy to loan you some trimmers 🙂 If PoP has a way to connect us, let’s set it up!

  • That’s photinia, and it’s way overgrown. It is also highly susceptible to a stubborn variety of leaf fungus that does very well on overgrown plants that lack good cross-ventilation. We’d be happy to spread some cuttings from our shrubs suffering from the same disease for the past 4 years. If left neglected in this state I predict they’d be leafless and half dead by early fall.

    Just kidding, I wouldn’t kill healthy greens! But with the warm winter ours had almost 2 feet of new growth in a little over a month. You have to keep on top of it and trim to a compact shape or else you’ll reach a point where they need to be cut back to the ground and start over. Sounds like that wouldn’t be the end of the world in this case

  • Oops – that was meant for mh above.

  • On a related note, D.C.’s seasonal grass/weed-cutting rules went into effect yesterday:

    (Or at least I assume they did. That press release is from 2011; I don’t see a corresponding one for this year.)

  • Knock on the door of the residence and ask the folks who live there to please trim the hedge. I bet they’d do it.

    If they won’t do it, for whatever reason, you might consider mentioning it to the local ANC rep … or even bringing it up at your local psa meeting. It’s a public safety concern if people can’t see what’s ahead or around the corner as they walk, particularly at night.

  • It’s too bad we have to debate whether or not to cut the tiny patch of grass in front of our houses. Seriously… just cut it. It looks like hell when it gets to be knee high. Do you really want to just look at it that way? You want to argue about who is responsible? Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the right thing for your street. Everyone benefits.

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