busted for grass: “but, officer, it’s switchgrass for ethanol”

I just found out about a great public service they have here in Ypsilanti. Apparently, if you don’t mow your grass for more than a week or so the city elders send a man to your house to do it for you! Isn’t that nice?

That, in case you missed it, was fucking sarcasm.

Linette called me at work this afternoon to tell me that there was a strange man mowing our lawn. She’d gone out and asked him what he was doing and he said that the city had sent him over and that we’d be getting a bill for his services.

It seems as though someone found the height of our grass disturbing. If they’d called, or knocked on our door and asked, they would have found out that our mower was being worked on by the guys at the hardware store, but instead they decided to send someone out. Actually, they didn’t just send him out. According to the guy, before sending him out, they had a camera crew come out and “document” our lawn. (Does anyone else find it perplexing, given all the talk lately of cutting back critical city services, that we’ve still got grass police on the payroll?)

Sure, there’s a guy living in a tent behind our neighbor’s house, and I’m finding drug paraphanalia in my backyard, but apparently that doesn’t call for immediate action like a few tufts of five inch-long Kentucky bluegrass.

Oh, and get this, two hours after the guy came and mowed our lawn, we got a call from the hardware store telling us that the mower was ready to be picked up (after being there for the past few weeks).

Sure, I’ve lived here for five years, and never had a problem with “frightfully long” grass before, but I guess it wasn’t even worth a two-minute phone call asking me what was up. And god forbid that the guy they sent out to gather photographic evidence knock on the door and tell us that we’re under investigation for aiding and abetting the lawn.

And, on top of it all, the guy they sent did a half-assed job of mowing… which, you better believe, I went out and got photographic evidence of.

Needless to say, I won’t be paying the bill. And, what’s more, I may even consider doing something drastic in retaliation, like replacing the lawn with ashtray sand, or moving my compost pile from the backyard to the front.

Now I’m going to go and do some research into what exactly the law it was that I broke by allowing my lawn to grow for a few weeks while my mower was being repaired.

update: Linette just found the municipal code we apparently violated. It says something about the potential of grass “over ten inches” in length to harbor “vermin.” I want to go out in the yard right now with a ruler and measure the grass in some of the spots they missed, but it’s raining. I can almost guarantee that we’re nowhere close to that though… Although, who knows how long it will be tomorrow, after the rain. (I just know that it’s doubling in length out there right now, as I sit in here, watching “America’s Next Top Model” and typing.)

And, I also wanted to mention that I’m not necessarily against laws to keep our neighborhood vermin-free. I’m just pissed that someone didn’t ask me why our lawn was so long. I, of course, realize that it’s impractical to suggest that the authorities call and interview everyone before sending out the grass police, but something about the way all of this went down just rubs me the wrong way.

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  1. ChelseaL
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    You can probably make a complaint about this at your next town council meeting. You’ll probably need to let them know in advance to put you on the agenda, at least if I’m remembering how local government works. If you keep your argument respectful (“I agree that we need ordinances to help keep vermin at bay”), you may just be able to beat city hall. Good luck, scofflaw.

  2. Stella Magdalen
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I’m always getting the warning tickets as Ann Arbor has a “community standards enforcement” arm of the police now.
    But you get a warning first. You should find out what the normal procedure is supposed to be in Ypsi as it seems really uncouth to not issue a warning ticket beforehand. I would also definitely do the ruler thing.

    I just was out looking at my grass and raspberries yesterday and realized I’m likely to hear that knock on my door any moment. Thought again about mowing, then it rained.
    I vote for putting down mulch instead of lawn, lawn sucks.

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    My guess is someone with minor pull with the city called to complain. Maybe the folks at First Presbyterian are having a bake sale this weekend and didn’t want your wild seeds dissuading brownie buyers from unlocking their car doors. Or, it could be the folks at Pub 13 are heading a Superbowl XL style clean sweep to white wash the area for the family friendly Friday night Jammin’ Michigan Ave events.

    Most likely it was just some junkie who was sick of wading through your waist high turf looking for his lost syringe.

    Be civic and pay the money. How will the city ever be able to afford legit enforcement unless it first generates funds with bogus finery?

  4. be OH be
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    What a steaming load of bullshit.
    If memory serves, Ypsidixit had a similar run-in with the lawn police and blogged about it. You may want to ask her how she handled it.

  5. murph
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Fun. Looks like the ordinance has a “complaint/challenge” mechanism, though I didn’t read further than “within ten days of receiving the bill.”

    YpsiDixit’s a Twp dweller, so is dealing with different grass police.

    I advise replacing your lawn with corn. The ordinance only covers “grass, weeds, or brush”, after all.

  6. Jim
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Last year Ypsi D linked to the blog of Lynne, who has had a couple of run-ins with the Ypsi lawn patrol.

    I’d like to know whose brother has the contract for the lawnmowing ‘service.’

  7. schutzman
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I’ve always held the opinion that if you own your own home, you’re just throwing your money away. This matter simply confirms that theory.

    You should really consider renting, mark.

  8. lynne
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Man. If there is one thing about Ypsilanti that I dont like, it is the “lawn police”. They have come to my house twice, never with any warning. The first time was when I was on vacation. The people who mowed my lawn at that time apparently decided that my rose bushes which were over 10 inches were “weeds” and they hacked several of them down. Then, I was charged $135.

    The second time was last year and I happened to be home at the time. I also happened to have my digital camera. Seriously, I want to know who in city hall is responsible for this harrassment! Surely there has to be something residents of our town can do about it?

    Anyhow, you can read about my experience at http://lynne.tblog.com/post/466120 It has pictures which clearly show that my lawn was not over 10″. There is something very sleazy about this ordinance and the way it is being enforced.

  9. lynne
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    OH and my thought after the business last year was to rip up the entire lawn and pave it over with cement and then paint it hot pink with green and blue polka dots and a big FUCK YOU YPSI painted on a sign attatched to my front porch. But, since I live in the historic district, I would probably get fined for that. So then I thought I would just make temporary signs that said FUCK YOU YPSI. I also thought about putting orange flags all over the front lawn such that the bottoms of the flags were exactly 10inches from the ground so that if they came back to mow, I could have proof that my lawn wasnt in violation of the ordinance. I finally just settled on choosing not to replace my American Flag which is a very sad state of disrepair. It is partly a statement of how I view the state of the country and partly a little bit of joy as I imagine that whomever would be uptight enough to call the city about a barely too high lawn would also be the type of person who gets bent out of shape when someone disrespects a flag. I dont know that is the case but I like to think so.

  10. Stella Magdalen
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about Ypsi but here it’s usually complaint based.
    They get a call and send someone out to check. I find I’m usually targeted by some mystery person in my neighborhood as numerous times they have been called to my house for improper snow removal when my neighbors snow blow four houses all exactly the same. I’m the only one who gets the tickets.
    Does someone have reason to hate you?

  11. chris
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 3:56 pm | Permalink


    At the top of my lungs…OK this is just stupid. How the fuck are you supposed to keep the yuppies out?

    However (written sheepishly), I am from Minnesota and when people do not shovel their walks (unless every household member has a poverty level income and is under the age of 65) that my friend is a offense worthy of a public bludgeoning.

    Dude, it is time for some serious “installation art”…if you know what I mean.

  12. mark
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I should probably start a new thread for this, but… I’m wondering what the most offensive thing that I can do on my property, while still remain within code, is. Some of you have had great ideas, but I don’t know that they push the envelope far enough. (How about something incorporating large mounds of dog shit?) I want to be ready when I get my bill for $135.

    (And were you serious about that, Lynne? One hundred and thirty-five dollars? I don’t know how big your yard is, but if they charge me that much for poorly mowing our little strip of grass, I’m afraid that I’d snap.)

    Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. (I also noticed that bit about them having to run a warning in the paper, Murph. I’ll send a letter requesting proof that it ran.)

  13. mark
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    And, as I said in the original post, I don’t really object to the code. I just think that someone, instead of taking the time to photograph my lawn, could have knocked on the door and asked. I would have been happy to have shown them my claim ticket from the hardware store, and explain to them that the grass would be dealt with in a day or two… And, if the concern is really about “vermin,” I’d be happy to show them a few houses around town that are much more likely to contain them than my lawn.

  14. lynne
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I do have a very big lawn but yes, I am serious about the $135 that I was charged. FWIW, when I was thinking about hiring a lawn service, the estimates ranged from $30-$75. So the $135 really is around 2-4 times the actual cost of having the lawn mowed. Part of that was a fine though and doesnt include the cost of all the perennial plants they killed.

    If your lawn is much smaller than mine is, I imagine you’ll be charged less than $135.

    A friend of mine suggested that I get a porch couch because he thinks that porch couches are the kind of thing that bugs the kind of person who complains to the city about tall grass. I am still thinking about that one because a porch couch might actually be kind of nice in that it would be nice to have a comfortable place to sit on my porch. The problem is that it would probably get wet a lot since even though my porch is covered, rain tends to blow in. Still, such couches are usually free so I suppose if it got too stinky, I could just throw it out.

    I thought that I might do an art project on my lawn that involved some old tires, an old automobile frame and maybe some old appliances along with some lime green and hot pink paint. My mother said that wouldnt be art but I think it would be a powerful statement about the forces of gentrification and about how a lot of the city ordinances are really designed to make sure the place looks “upper class” as much as possible. I mean, I imagine that a tasteful but boring bit of statuary would never be something anyone would be asked to remove from their lawn but if I painted an old washing machine lime green or something and put it out on my lawn, I might be asked to remove it. I am not sure if the historic district commission can control art installations or not. It would make for an interesting court case though. (as would a challenge to the city’s graffiti ordinance, btw). I mean how much freedom of speech does a person actually have? Can a city dictate the type of art a person has in their yard if that art is viawable by the public? What if the “art” is words painted on the side of a building. What if a city official decides that the art is graffiti?

  15. Collin
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    This kinda sounds like a government shakedown to me. A way for them to add to the coffers by claiming you were violating code, paying some yo-yo $20-30 to mow your lawn and then charging you $135. All they have to do is be on the lookout for someone close to violating it, give no warning and then the city makes $110 (approx). Not as lucrative as speeding tickets, but every little bit helps.

  16. mark
    Posted May 13, 2006 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    The case has been resolved. I will post something about it later.

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