The corner of Dunwoody Club Drive and Spalding Drive is on Sandy Springs City property.
The corner of Dunwoody Club Drive and Spalding Drive is on Sandy Springs City property.

Though some people may be more likely to track their children’s growth than the height of their grass, penalties exist for unkempt lawns.

Melanie Williams said she’s heard people recommend all sort of strategies for maintaining property—including renting goats.
“I thought they were kidding,” Williams said, describing a recommendation made to the Dunwoody Preservation Trust volunteers who work to maintain historic cemeteries.

Property maintenance in many suburban subdivisions is policed by residents and the groups homeowners join when they buy their homes and that often also provide upkeep for common amenities such as pools or tennis courts. But local governments get in on the act, too. Let your grass grow too tall and you face a visit from the local lawn police.

A first offense in Brookhaven costs $100, a second offense by the same property owner costs $200—even if the violation occurs at a second property in the city—and a third offense is $500.

Dunwoody and Sandy Springs can impose fines once weeds or grass exceed 10 inches. In Brookhaven and Atlanta, the allowable height is a foot.

In an informal survey recently, several Dunwoody residents had no notion of the height at which they must trim grass and weeds under city law. Their guesses ranged from 4 inches to 18 inches.

“You can’t make somebody cut it at 4 inches,” 20-year Dunwoody resident Marty Johnson said. “That’s too short; those people are crazy.”

Johnson lives in Mill Glen, where he said everybody cuts their grass and keeps their weeds down. Johnson prefers his homeowner-association-free neighborhood because he’s happier not living under the rule of “little old ladies with nothing better to do” than looking for violations.

“I don’t want to live anywhere where somebody can tell me what color I can paint my house or what kind of mailbox I can put up,” Johnson said. “I would rather deal with the crazy-looking stuff than have some board tell me what I can and can’t do.”
Johnson said he’d never called city officials to complain about unmaintained property, but he admitted that his neighbor, Georgia Power Co., sometimes lets its grass get out of control.

Johnson lives by power lines and said the power company lets the grass grow really tall. “They let that grow up and only cut it about once a year, but nobody’s ever complained about it that I’ve heard about.”

Amanda Wyatt said she never personally called the authorities on a neighbor, but remembers when one of her neighbors did. “We did have a property down the street that was vacant and one of the neighbors called code enforcement,” Wyatt said. “It was maybe 18 inches high.”

The house wasn’t abandoned, Wyatt said, but the residents had moved out.

By calling in a complaint, her neighbor did what Dunwoody Code Compliance Officer Tom LaPenna wants residents to do in those situations. Code compliance in Dunwoody is complaint-driven, he said, and officers aren’t out measuring grass height looking for violations. They rely on residents to turn in their neighbors.

LaPenna said that in two cases he’s worked, neighbors mowed residents’ front yards for three years because they wanted to help their neighbors, who had moved out of state.

When the neighbors finally tired of cutting extra lawns, they called LaPenna, who said he found a “jungle” with 6-foot-tall weeds in the backyard. “I realized the back door was broken into so I reported that to the police,” he said.

Dunwoody Councilman John Heneghan said he believes less than 1 percent of the city’s residents don’t keep their grass cut.

“It’s usually those odd situations where somebody passed away and their kids live in another state and they just haven’t gotten around to getting somebody to take care of the lawn,” Heneghan said.

Heneghan said he uses a system to keep his grass short.

“I try to cut my grass once a week,” Heneghan said. “During the heat of summer, I plan on cutting my grass only on days just before it’s going to rain, otherwise the heat of the sun will burn out my lawn and I’ll have no grass whatsoever.”

LaPenna laughed about a time code compliance officers from Sandy Springs called him to complain about the overgrowth near a corner where Spalding and Dunwoody Club Drive meet.

“They thought Dunwoody included this corner; it doesn’t,” LaPenna said.

Turns out, they were complaining about a property in their own town.