Noxious weeds and neighbors

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Tuesday, September 20th, 2022
Ohio farm and rural road

Did you know yellow grove bamboo is on Ohio’s “noxious weeds” list?  We’ve seen an increase in legal questions about bamboo, a plant that can cross property boundaries pretty quickly and create a neighbor dispute.  Weeds often cause neighbor issues, which is why Ohio has a set of noxious weed laws.  The laws aim to resolve problems around yellow grove bamboo and other species designated as “noxious weeds.”

The noxious weeds list

The Ohio legislature designated shatter cane and Russian thistle as noxious weeds years ago, then granted the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) the authority to determine other noxious weeds that could be prohibited in Ohio.  Since that time, the noxious weed list has grown to include 31 weed species.   Two of the species, yellow grove bamboo and grapevines, are noxious weeds only if not managed in a certain way.  The list includes the following:

  • Shatter Cane
  • Kudzu
  • Russian Thistle
  • Japanese knotweed
  • Johnsongrass
  • Field bindweed
  • Wild parsnip
  • Heart-podded hoary cress
  • Canada thistle
  • Hairy whitetop or ballcress
  • Poison hemlock
  • Perennial sowthistle
  • Cressleaf groundsel
  • Russian knapweed
  • Musk thistle
  • Leafy spurge
  • Purple loosestrife
  • Hedge bindweed
  • Mile-A-Minute Weed
  • Serrated tussock
  • Giant Hogweed
  • Columbus grass
  • Apple of Peru
  • Musk thistle
  • Marestail
  • Forage Kochia
  • Kochia
  • Water Hemp
  • Palmer amaranth
  • Yellow Grove Bamboo, when spread from its original premise of planting and not being maintained
  • Grapevines: when growing in groups of 100 or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for 2 consecutive years

Talking about noxious weeds

Since noxious weeds can be harmful to all, the hope is that all landowners will manage noxious weeds effectively and reduce the possibility that the weeds will invade a neighbor’s property.  But for many reasons, that isn’t always the case.  When it appears that noxious weeds on a neighbor’s property are getting out of hand, first try to address the issue through neighbor communications.  A “friendly” discussion about the weeds might reveal helpful information that can reduce the neighbor conflict.  Maybe the neighbor has recently sprayed the weeds or isn’t aware of the weeds. Maybe the neighbor’s tenant is responsible for managing the land. Or, as is sometimes the case, maybe the suspected plants aren’t actually noxious weeds.  Good communication between the neighbors could bring a quick resolution to the situation.

Agronomic help with noxious weeds

Knowledge and management might be the solution to a noxious weeds problem between neighbors. For assistance identifying and managing noxious weeds, check out OSU’s guide on Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio at https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/ohionoxiousweeds/ and refer to helpful articles posted on OSU’s Agronomic Crops Network at https://agcrops.osu.edu.

Help with noxious weeds

Knowledge and management might be the solution to a noxious weeds problem between neighbors. For assistance identifying and managing noxious weeds, check out OSU’s guide on Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio at https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/ohionoxiousweeds/ and refer to helpful articles posted on OSU’s Agronomic Crops Network at https://agcrops.osu.edu.

Legal procedures might be necessary

If communication isn’t helpful or possible, the laws establish procedures for dealing with noxious weeds. Different procedures in the law apply for different weed locations.

  • If the weeds are in the fence row between two properties, a landowner has a right to ask the neighbor to clear the row of weeds within four feet of the line fence.  If the neighbor doesn’t do so within 10 days, the landowner may notify the board of township trustees.  Once notified, the trustees must visit the property and determine whether the fence row should be cleared.  If so, the trustees must hire someone to clean up the fence row.  The costs of the clearing are then assessed on the neighbor’s property taxes.
  • If the weeds are on private land beyond the fence row, a landowner can send written notice of the noxious weeds to the township trustees.  A letter describing the type and location of the weeds, for instance, would serve as written notice.  Once the trustees receive a written notice, they must notify the neighbor to cut or destroy the weeds or alternatively, to show why there is no need for such action.  If the neighbor doesn’t respond to the trustees and take action within 5 days of the notice being given, the trustees must order the weeds to be cut or destroyed.  The cost of destroying the weeds is then assessed on the neighbor’s property taxes.
  • If the neighbor is a railroad, the railroad must cut or destroy noxious weeds along the railway between June 1 and 20, August 1 and 20, and if necessary, September 1 and 20.  If a railroad fails to do so and the township trustees are aware of the problem, the trustees may remove the weeds and recover costs in a civil action against the railroad.  While the law doesn’t state it, a landowner may have to document whether the railroad follows the required cutting schedule and notify the trustees if it does not.
  • If the neighbor is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources or a park owned by the state or a political subdivision, the landowner must provide information about the noxious weeds to the township trustees.  The trustees then notify the county Extension educator, who must meet with a park authority and a representative of the soil and water conservation district within five days to consider ways to deal with the problem.  The Extension educator must report findings and recommendations back to the township trustees, but the law doesn’t require the trustees to take action on the report.  Apparently, the hope is that the problem would be resolved after considering ways to deal with it.

What if the neighbor leases the land?

We mentioned that sometimes a neighbor might not be tending to noxious weeds because it’s actually the responsibility of the neighbor’s tenant under a leasing arrangement, such as a farmland lease or a solar lease.  These types of leases should state which party is responsible for noxious weeds.  Note that the law recognizes the possibility of a leasing situation by requiring the trustee to notify the “owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land” when the weeds are on private land and the “owner or tenant” when the weeds are in the fence row.  The “or” in these provisions can be problematic though, as that doesn’t require the township to notify both the neighbor and tenant.  A landowner might need to ask the trustees to communicate with both the neighbor and its tenant so that the parties are both aware and can resolve which is responsible for managing the noxious weeds according to the leasing arrangement. 

For more information about noxious weeds, refer to our law bulletins in the property law library on https://farmoffice.osu.edu.  For assistance identifying and managing noxious weeds, check out OSU’s guide on Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio at https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/ohionoxiousweeds/ and refer to helpful articles posted on OSU’s Agronomic Crops Network at https://agcrops.osu.edu.