Neglected trees on vacant property are growing out of control. What to do?
May 29, 2012 6:38 PM   Subscribe

There is a house across the street from me that has been vacant for a little over a year now. I have noticed the trees in the backyard growing out of control and they are starting to block my view. More importantly, I am worried about the potential for a fire from the accumulation of pine needles on the ground.

The house is a single-family unit in San Francisco, California. I know that he former occupant is staying up in Mendocino county somewhere, and I do not know the status of the house (i.e., whether they intend to sell it or not). It's just been sitting there. I would really like to see the two trees in their backyard get cut down or at the very least pruned. Should I contact the fire marshal/some other authority or will I basically just get a "tough shit" response?
posted by MattMangels to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call the city. There is usually an ordinance about stuff like this, and they should be able to find the owner.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:42 PM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: Here you go.
Code Enforcement: Complaints Program

Code Enforcement Investigators evaluate complaints about a variety of legally prohibited public health nuisances, including overgrown vegetation, accumulation of garbage and debris, and animal nuisances, and where necessary works with the City’s legal team to gain property owner compliance.

To Report a Complaint: Contact Luisa Garfil at 415-252-3805.


We investigate complaints of unsanitary conditions and other Health code violations, such as:
  • mosquito control and prevention
  • mold prevention (pdf)
  • dirty needles
  • garbage accumulation
  • rodents
  • neglected and overgrown vegetation
  • stagnant water causing mosquito breeding
  • bird and animal waste
  • pigeon nuisance
  • safety hazards
  • chemical/offensive odors
  • too many pets
  • unsanitary living conditions, hoarding
  • inoperative vehicles on private property
We take enforcement action against neglected private property when needed. The San Francisco Health Code provides that property owners are responsible to maintain their property nuisance-free.

Tenants are responsible for routine housekeeping. We work with property owners, tenants, tourists, hotels, business owners and employees, other government agencies and the Office of the City Attorney to correct Health code violations.

We evaluate the homes of asthma patients to help reduce triggers in the home environment, at no charge, if referred by a doctor.
posted by SMPA at 6:54 PM on May 29, 2012

They're pine trees? They don't really grow out of control, especially in one year. I doubt anyone is going to cut down live trees for fire safety reasons either. To be honest, it sounds like you're more concerned about your views from the reasons you posted here and in general, that's no reason for the city to cut down someone else's property.
posted by fshgrl at 7:00 PM on May 29, 2012

Are accumulated pine needs on the ground really a thing? I didn't know... my parents have 100+ pine trees they planted on their property, and underneath them is 20 years of dead pine needles.

Although, we live in a much wetter climate than SF. Fire risk is much less.
posted by sbutler at 7:13 PM on May 29, 2012

Response by poster: This particular pine tree is a bishop pine. They do indeed grow very quickly. I have one in my backyard and it's a pain in the ass.
posted by MattMangels at 7:28 PM on May 29, 2012

I lived in a house with a pair of huge pine trees in the front yard. Apparently a little girl planted them in the lawn decades before, and they had created a miniature forest.

This house had also been passed down from lessee to lessee for over 20 years and there was a drawer of ancient bills and expired leases and whatnot. There was also an old city code violation notification - the neighbor had notified the city that the trees were shedding onto our driveway. City code violations around here tend to be a "fix this within X days or pay a fine."

So you can call the number SMPA gave you and it will probably accomplish your goal.
posted by aniola at 7:41 PM on May 29, 2012

If you believe the pine needles are a fire hazard, you could probably spray them down with a hose every few days, or even bag and remove them. It seems unlikely that anyone would complain, and even less likely that you'd get sued or arrested or something over it.

The same could probably not be said for pruning or cutting the trees.
posted by box at 8:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just be aware that the code enforcement process can take a lot of time. I'm down in L.A. and here you report it...and then eventually the city takes notice, perhaps with extra nudging from your councilperson...and then they cite the owner...who has time to respond and possibly challenge the citation...and then there's a period for reassessment, etc etc etc.

On my street we've spent years dealing with a recalcitrant absentee owner who lets his property become an overgrown jungle that grows so far out into the street that it threatens to block a blind curve. Every single time we've collectively tried to deal with it through the city we've been stymied by the long process and some neighbor eventually gives in and does the trimming his/herself.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:07 PM on May 29, 2012

Does mail get delivered to the house? It is somewhat likely that the owner of the home has the mail forwarded from the house to his/her house. Try mailing a note to the owner, or asking your mail delivery person if they deliver things there or if mail is forwarded from there.

In addition, the Assesor Recorder's office should be able to help you find out who owns the house and then contacting them should be easier.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:13 AM on May 30, 2012

Send a certified letter to the occupant/address and put them on notice. Also, totally do code enforcement.

You do have the right to prune anything that overhangs your property, especially if it's a safety issue. It's on your dime, but sometimes it's worth the peace of mind.

IANAL, but I watch a ton of People's Court.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2012

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