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Is letting your grass grow knee high (or higher) a code violation?

Ken Little

While New Hanover County does not have any ordinance governing the height of grass, county attorney Wanda Copley said if the grass becomes a nuisance “so as to create a health hazard” by creating a haven for critters like rats and snakes, the county Health Department can order the owner to correct the situation.

The Health Department frequently refers such matters to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office detectives assigned to investigate environmental issues. Tall grass can be a violation under the county’s nuisance ordinance, said Sgt. Jerry Brewer.

Grass can’t be more than 1 foot high and must be maintained within 50 feet of a structure, Brewer said.

“If you own a field with no structure, then there is some leeway. But if there is a structure (like) a house, fence or building, then the grass can’t be more than 1 foot high,” he said.

The best number for residents of unincorporated areas of the county to call about an overgrown property is (910) 798-4200.

“We will send out a deputy to take a report and they will send it up to detectives, who will send out an environmental detective,” Brewer said.

Since overgrown grass or any other condition which provides a haven for rats and other vermin is a civil issue, the environmental detective first gives a warning to the property owner. If the property owner does not rectify the situation, the detective will obtain a 30-day abatement.

The next step is bringing in at least three contractors, and the county will select the least-expensive bidder to complete a property cleanup. A tax lien is placed on the property for the cost of the cleanup, Brewer said.

The city of Wilmington also has a nuisance ordinance, including one section covering “offensive matter” that “may be dangerous or prejudicial to the public health or which may constitute a public nuisance.”

The city gives property owners 10 days to remove “noxious weeds,” trash “and all other form of offensive animal or vegetable matter or refuse.” If the owner does not comply, the city will clean the property and put a tax lien on it.

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