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Ask the County Law Librarian – The Case of the Encroaching Bamboo



Q.  Hello Coral,

I am so glad to have found your website! I have tried to research this problem but have had no luck in resolving it. From reading your site, I have found my problem to be related to "Encroachment."

The problem is my neighbor’s grove of bamboo shoots have started to infest my side of the fence, with their rhizomes roots sprouting and growing into bamboo shoots on both mine and their side of the fence. In a short amount of time, their bamboo grove has grown to about 20-30 ft tall. Even with the bamboo at that height, they are continuing to water it. On my side of the fence, there are multiple bamboo plants that have been shooting up to about 3 ft tall. I have been trying to control this problem by cutting the bamboo plant as they sprout up.

It seems we have may to seal off the area with concrete (?) to ensure that the bamboo plant does not come into our side of the fence. Cutting the bamboo plant cannot fix the problem because the way these roots grow, is they can grow in multiple directions and will continuously grow and grow. Because this particular plant can become so uncontrollable, certain states actually ban bamboos from being grown!

Also, since the plant is growing so high so fast, wouldn’t the state or county have the right to request them to cut it down once it reaches a certain height?

Thanks in advance for your help!

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sandy

A. Thanks, Sandy! As you read in my article on “Neighbor Troubles,” published April 5, 2012:

Encroaching limbs and roots are generally considered a legal nuisance. As mentioned above, the injured party may start a civil action or abate the nuisance. “Abating the nuisance” of encroaching limbs and roots usually means that you can trim them back to the property line, as long as you do not cause unnecessary injury to the plant, or enter the neighboring property without permission. Without permission, it is considered trespassing. More information about encroaching trees and vegetation can be found in Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise from Nolo Press.

So it looks like you could seal off the area with concrete as long as you did not harm the neighbor’s bamboo plant.

As for limiting the height of the bamboo, Chapter 4 of Neighbor Law, titled "Encroachment: Invading Branches and Roots," states on page 73 that “[w]hen trees are planted close together and used as a barrier, they are natural fences and may be subject to local laws regulating fences. Fence laws can govern the height allowed and also the location of fences on property.”

California Civil Code § 841.4 provides:

Any fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance. Any owner or occupant of adjoining property injured either in his comfort or the enjoyment of his estate by such nuisance may enforce the remedies against its continuance prescribed in Title 3, Part 3, Division 4 of this code.

“Title 3, Part 3, Division 4 of this code” is § 3501, which provides that “the remedies against a private nuisance are: 1. A civil action; or, 2. Abatement.”

You may wish to read Wilson v. Handley, 97 Cal. App. 4th 1301 (2002), which discusses all of the elements of the statute, including whether a row of trees can be a "structure in the nature of a fence," whether a particular fence “unnecessarily exceeds” 10 feet in height, and whether the dominant purpose of erecting a particular fence is to annoy a neighbor so as to satisfy the “malice” element of the statute.

You did not say where you are located, but you should check your county and city’s ordinances to see whether they have any height restrictions on fences or any prohibition against bamboo. For example, the Sacramento City Code provides in § 9.16.070 that “[n]o person shall maliciously erect or maintain in the city, for the purpose of annoying the owners or occupants of adjoining property, any fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily, exceeding six feet in height.” There do not appear to be any restrictions on fence height in the Sacramento County Code, but you should always check.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.
 

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian

www.saclaw.org

 
  • David Merrick

    Bamboo roots can be blocked with a 24 inch deep barrier of plastic sheeting. Bamboo sprouts new poles in May and break off if they are stepped on. Concrete will not stop the roots. The poles reach their full height in about 10 weeks. Some types are 30 feet tall. When watered, or not, they will grow no taller after the first spring of showing its self. These larger poles have structural value after 3 years of standing and should be cut down for use and will die in a few more years. The roots spread out much like the Redwood tree starting new trees beyond. Unlike the bamboo, one needs a tool to cut the Redwood shoots, the growing height continues each year, and new Redwood shoots will relentlessly keep appearing at the first cut all year around. Bamboo is compatible with deep rooted trees such as the Oak. Bamboo shoots, being so soft, are easily controlled with the mower as they sprout in May. Spring weeding is a must for any flower garden, no bamboo shoots will be found for the remaining year. Bamboo can be annually thinned for structural pole harvesting to not be a fence like barrier. The larger 30 foot poles are easier to control because there are fewer shoots.

    Have you talked to your neighbor? Most bamboo enthusiasts have some knowledge of the root system. I am following some of the law-making around bamboo and find the depth of the plastic barrier being deemed to be deeper than 24 inches. Scientific research reflects that it only needs to be 24 inches unless you are on the uphill side of the bamboo garden. California jurisdictions have rejected the fence idea but recognize that the bamboo owner should be a responsible gardener when a neighbor does not want it on their side. Cutting the roots off at the property line will not kill the neighbor’s bamboo. The roots on your side will die if a barrier is in place and you keep breaking off the new May shoots on your side.

  • In Los Angeles, my neighbor’s clumping bamboo is invading my lawn, hitting my pipes and walls, etc. It has destroyed a section of his sidewalk once, forcing him to replace it, and is going after another section. It’s not as fast moving as the running kind, but it’s plenty fast. It went under the sidwalk and came out on the other side. It went under the fence between us and I now have giant shoots in my back yard. Should I go to court alleging nuisance? Trespass? Old-fashioned destruction of property? He’s leaving town, so all he wants to do is stall till he’s gone and can say, “Sorry, not my problem.” He won’t get rid of it. Do I have any right to make him get rid of all of it? Or only the part that’s up against my property (and quickly jumping over the line)? If he cuts it back to the line, it’ll be back over within 2 months. Are there regulations that say how far he has to cut it back? Surely he can’t just unleash any plant he can find and sick it on his neighbors. Also, when he’s trying to sell his house and holds an “open house,” can I sit outside, off his property, and distribute flyers describing my complaint, with the goal of forcing him to get rid of it? I’m told bamboo reduces property value for everyone. Is there a reason I can’t publicize that? Or am I violating some law?

  • I have the same problem with a neighbor, but he is an ex convict and his neighbor warned me not to even discuss the problem with him. That neighbor, had the same problem too. Is there any office in the Sac county where I can go to?

  • auwh1te

    I have a home located in South Sacramento and my neighbor refuses to cut back his tree and now some of the branches are encrouching onto my property. Can I cut only the branches encrouching onto my property and do I have to clean up any fallen branches on his property from cutting the tree? Please advise.