Lawns and the Law


When will our nation’s police officers leave law-abiding gardeners alone and go back to more important tasks, like monitoring toe-tapping in men’s restrooms?

While Elizabeth keeps us posted on the breaking news story in Buffalo, I bring you an update from Orem, Utah. Alert readers will remember 70 year-old Betty Perry, who was arrested after a scuffle with police officers over her failure to water her lawn.

Well, she’s had her day in court.  She pled not guilty to charges of failing to water her lawn and resisting arrest. Next court date is scheduled for mid October.

Now, we acknowledge that there’s something a little odd about this case.  According to news reports, her water service was shut off nine months ago, but she continued living in the house. Sounds like she could use a little help getting her situation sorted out.

But really, who decided that citizens living in a desert should be required to water their lawn? This isn’t the only case Orem has had.  "As for the lawn-watering
charge, Peterson said his office handles dozens of them a year, and
only when the accused has not responded to administrative requests to
correct the problem."

Dozens? And those are just the ones who ignored the letter?  I’ve got a one-word solution to the problem of these lawn rebels in Orem:  Decriminalization.


  1. When I first read this article I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I know there are some stupid rules and regulations about, but this beats everything. Stupid doesn’t begin to describe it. And how come the old lady fell as the officer grabbed her hand? Did s/he not notice that s/he was dealing with an old lady and that you should treat those gently and with care? Sad and stupid, this whole case and I’m glad to live in a country where we have saner rules/regulations/laws. 🙂

  2. Lucky town- their police department has nothing else to do but maintain lawn laws and forcibly arrest elderly women. Here’s an idea- if they have nothing else to do, maybe they could begin offering assistance to people who may be in desperate situations.

  3. This lady has had her water turned off for 9 months and is still living in the house?! Now she can bring bottled water in to drink, but how is she bathing, how is she flushing her toilet, etc? I think the unwatered lawn is just a symptom of other problems. Where is this woman’s family? Has social services checked in on her?

    I still think it is totally stupid to require people to water their lawn. Course if it is a bunch of dirt blowing away that is another problem.

  4. good grief. In many places people are NOT allowed to water their lawns when there are rainfall/water supply issues. I’ve never watered the grass here and never will. Thankfully like Yolanda Elizabet, I live in a place where sanity still prevails on some things….

  5. My father always advised me to look at the world like bird dung on windshield: there are always (at least) two ways to view everything. And while I am most assuredly inclined to be appalled by the kinds of things I’m reading (the words “Police” and “Garden” should never be in the same thought), I can at least see that the “other” side is coming from a rational place… even if I do not agree with it.

    I have had condos and townhouses in the most urban of urban environments, suburban homes and even rural (horse) properties. I grew up (part of the time) on a Ranch and the other part in an in-town suburb (if THAT means anything). I live in a fairly modest (I guess) suburban home now. I mention this only because I’ve seen all sorts of things.

    In the urbus and exurbus I saw appalling extremes: grossly neglected property adjacent to hyper-manicured property (usually mine). This is a problem for many reasons. In the city, I have seen properties overgrown with figs and such. Unkempt. Unswept. And this OF COURSE leads to an explosion of Rats. Rats don’t care about property lines. Same with bugs. I have a gorgeous 125 year old brownstone overrun with vermin because a neighbor didn’t practice basic hygene.

    In the country, I’ve lived next to neglected open fields which incubated horrendous seed and pest problem. (Even a lazy farmer knows enough to till under the damned failed corn before the entire county is overrun.) I have had feeding pastures consumed with thistle and various “wildflowers” toxic or caustic to horses. I’ve had to spend serious dollars and energy “repairing” pastures because my neighbors didn’t do fundamental things: like water the land before it blew away, or cut the scrub.

    In the suburbs, I’ve lost a beautiful Kentucky Blue lawn to dandelions and crap-grass when a neighbor paid no attention to his lawn for several seasons. The grasses touched. I simply couldn’t keep up and I lost. I ended up killing it all and resodding.

    And I’m not even getting into issues like property value and quality of life.

    The point is this: extreme behavior of almost any sort is uneighborly. Communities SHOULD enforce community-agreed-upon norms. And we should get a handle on what those norms are BEFORE we move in. If one doesn’t like the rules of a particular place, don’t live there. I read freqently about people who move into places and them complain because they can’t do X or Y. They then begin to complain about their neighbors etc. And then they sue. Lawyers. Crazy.

    It is like the Coral Gables thing (posted here recently I think). If the rule in Coral Gables is “Don’t Park A Pickup On The Street Overnight” and you absoluetly positively want to park a pickup on the street overnight, for Pete’s sake don’t buy or rent in Coral Gables! I own a truck myself. I’m not anti-truck. But SURELY the people who bought homes in an area and agreed to certain norms are entitled to do that.

    It is a free country but that doesn’t mean that everyone is free to do anything and everything they want (obviously).

    The point is that the issue (in general) is nor polar. There is a continuum of circusmstance. Each circumstance is different. What is reasonable in one case is unreasonable in another.

    So… I can see that there is ANOTHER side to these kinds of story.

    The problems come when people aren’t reasonable or decent… or when enforcement becomes blind and inflexible to situational realities.

    The Buffalo thing is outrageous. I don’t know enough about the other. Seems a little wonky.

    Anyway… sorry for the rant.

  6. Most government codes and regulations are set up to provide a measure of public safety for the health and welfare of its citizens.

    Many will ask how a dead dusty weed ridden yard could pose a hazard to the public and thus be considered a violation ? .

    Consider the fire danger, particularly in the windy dry Orem Utah climate , where this woman of obvious compromised mental and financial means has exposed herself and her neighbors to.

    If one was to scan some of the photographs that have been published of this woman’s property one would see the derelict condition of the house and grounds .

    Now it is not a crime to be poor but it is a crime to expose your neigbhors to unhealthful and potentially dangerous situations, such as an increased fire susceptibility , rats , vermin and other unhealthful dangers.

    Gloria Allred the self serving and grandstanding L.A. attorney shrills , “I ask the citizens of Orem: How many of you would like to have your great-grandmother taken from her home with bruises and blood and placed in handcuffs for failing to water her lawn?” ,
    But neglects to ask why three generations of Granny’s children allow their beloved grandmother to live in a house without running water for nine months.

    I also find Allreds description the police investigation as “self-serving and face-saving,” comic irony. — “Just who is self serving in this situation Gloria ?”—-

    There is obviously a lot more to this story than just a poorly maintained lawn , there are broad reaching social responsibilities and concerns at hand that even those who live thousands of miles away can plainly see.

  7. OK county clerk, I am waiting to see what you say when they come after you.
    And Devriss, the woman has a bare dead lawn. I don’t think vermin is the problem.
    I saw the whole veiw of the house. There was one board against the wall. Everyting else was pretty bare. Attractive? No but certainly not a hazard except to her apparently.

  8. Gloria… what a peculiar thing to write.

    So your belief is that if I have trouble over my own garden that I won’t believe any of the things I wrote?

    There is no hypocrasy here.

    If I have a problem, I will fight it. If I win, I will stand victorious and naked (except for a hand spade) in my front lawn/garden and pronounce myself mayor of the village. Maybe “king.”

    If I lose, I may do the same thing. Maybe. (But THEN, no doubt, I’ll start writing checks and digging.)

    Then again, I might just move to Seattle.

  9. Clerk, I only mean that many of us are being victimized by said laws.
    We are trying a different tack and always the ones that prefer the clean and spare use these sort of cases against us.

    Here is my e-mail to B Brown Mayor
    Mayor Brown,
    Many municipalities are beginning to understand the advantages to having a more natural relaxed style of garden rather than a lawn surrounding the home. These include less water use and no mower pollution. Research is beginning to find a health benefit to gardening in general and less pesticide use.
    Maybe you should look into what is being discouraged by threatening citizens when they differ from the norm. An awareness of our effect on the world around us is sweeping the country. When neighbors become accustomed to a fuller landscape and the reasons why one would want to change resistance decreases. Of course some will never change but those of us willing and eager to start need help from our elected officials.
    Thank you

    Maybe not as grandstanding as L.A. attorney’s shrill ,
    “I ask the citizens of Orem: How many of you would like to have your great-grandmother taken from her home with bruises and blood and placed in handcuffs for failing to water her lawn?” ,

    but I agree with her.

    And cleck Re…
    If I have a problem, I will fight it. If I win, I will stand victorious and naked (except for a hand spade) in my front lawn/garden and pronounce myself mayor of the village. Maybe “king.”

    If I lose, I may do the same thing. Maybe.

    Let me know I would love to be there.

  10. Ridiculous, especially in an arid western state, although most anywhere in North America is subject to drought. Last I checked, a dry brown lawn quickly turns green when rain returns.

    If decriminalization ain’t gonna happen, another possible solution: exodus from Orem, Utah. (Let’s face it–this can’t be the only problem there.)

  11. Wow, County Clerk — if you move into my neighborhood, I’ll make a deal with you. I won’t turn in any “naked guy standing in the middle of an expensively manicured lawn shouting about being king” complaints against you if you promise not to turn in “neighbor grows shrubs, forest plants, and raised bed garden in front instead of expensively manicured lawn” compaints against me. But do consider a pair of shorts, pretty please. There are a lot of cats around here that like to play with dangly things.

  12. Well, as far as Buffalo goes I think it’s a question of education. I sent an email to the commissioner of inspections suggesting that he send his guys to a seminar. Many of our gardening professionals are way more outraged about this than any of you. You wouldn’t believe the local emails I am getting in support of Jean’s miixed plantings.

    But I think education is the key. It will happen.

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