At 79, Southampton Village resident Mary Kosciusko no longer walks to the rear of her backyard on Anns Lane. But the rear of her yard, or, more specifically, the large hedge that abuts her property, appears to keep creeping closer to her—stray leaves and branches poking out and encroaching onto her land.
The offending hedge, which is owned by a neighbor, has not been trimmed in five years, she said. That is, the side facing her property has not been trimmed in that long—it appears that the other side has.
And Ms. Kosciusko is not alone. In Southampton Village, neighbor disputes over unkempt hedges are not unusual. Lacking ownership of the hedge, and unwilling to shell out the cash to maintain what is not theirs, they sought relief from the Village Board.
In an effort to quell such disputes, the board last Thursday, September 8, established a requirement that all hedges on a property line must be trimmed at least once per year—under threat of fine and even possible imprisonment—while at the same time dictating that property owners must get written permission from their neighbors to trim the sides of hedges facing their neighbors’ yards.
The new legislation, which was approved unanimously by the board, is “pretty unique” when it comes to laws nationwide, according to Village Attorney Richard DePetris.
The new law, which will go into effect sometime next year, mandates that all owners of boundary-line hedges groom the tops and sides of their hedges at least annually—including the oft-neglected side facing neighbors. Neighbors, however, must give written permission for them to enter the property to do the cutting and cleanup. After all, Mr. DePetris explained, the village cannot mandate that a neighbor should trespass onto someone’s lawn.
The law identifies its goal as trying to “prevent such hedges from becoming overgrown and unsightly,” and to mitigate neighbor complaints. But the law does not define the terms “overgrown” or “unsightly”—Mayor Mark Epley said that would be up to the adjoining neighbor’s discretion.
If a hedge owner fails to trim the hedges by July 31 of each year, a neighbor can, under the new law, give notice to the property owner demanding that the hedge be trimmed within 30 days, and granting permission to enter the property. Offenders who do not follow through can be found guilty of violating the ordinance and could face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for no more than 15 days.
Steven Gaines, a Wainscott resident and author of the book “Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons,” said he thinks the Southampton law is a good one, albeit unfortunate in that it had to be drafted and that people did not just voluntarily trim their hedges. “It would be as if you only painted the side of your house that faces the street,” he said on Monday.
He also touched on the quirkiness of the new law. “Out here in this unusual community in which we live, we’re confronted with all sorts of terrible problems that people would laugh at in other communities. But they’re very serious to us here,” he said. “So I’m very glad that at least the ‘philistines’ will be looking at well-manicured hedges.” He then amended “hedges” to “hedgerows” to complete the reference to his book’s title.
Ms. Kosciusko, who has lived in her house for 40 years, said that a previous owner of the neighboring property had the hedge manicured about twice a year for more than 30 years. But when the property changed ownership sometime in the past decade, at least half the hedge fell into neglect. Since June, when her husband, Michael, died, she has lived alone with her cat, Shadow—nicknamed “Kitty.”
Her neighbor’s landscaper last cut her side of the hedge in 2006, she said, but she found out later that the landscaper did it at his own expense and would not do it again. She said her neighbor offered to have his landscaper cut the hedge in 2009—but wanted her to pay $600 for the service, which he said was a bargain, as it had an estimated cost of $2,000.
“I don’t care if it’s 50 cents—I’m not paying him anything. It’s not my hedge,” Ms. Kosciusko said.
Instead of wielding a hedge clipper or paying for a landscaper to cut the plant, Ms. Kosciusko wielded a pen. She sent a letter to the neighbor. “He completely ignored me,” she said.
Her neighbor couldn’t be reached for comment this week.
About a half mile away from her property sits Anthony Punnett’s home on Hill Street. His yard is long and narrow and bordered to the east and west by his respective neighbors’ hedges. While the hedge to the east is well maintained, the one to the west is not.