Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Ongoing Saga of The Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbors

I swear, just looking at this pile burning makes my lungs hurt.

The past few days were just downright gorgeous here and I spent most of Friday and Saturday working in the yard, turning beds, moving around plants, raking and getting ready to plant.  The hubby and I raked the front yard and carried those leaves to the curb for trash pickup, but the backyard is much larger, and has lots more ground and lots more leaves. Those leaves we mow over with the bag on the mower and then spread the mulched leaves in the gardens along the fence line. When my husband tried to crank the mower late Friday afternoon though, it wouldn't turn over, so he had to run that to a friend to do carburetor work.

Southern Style Hissy Fit Ahead Warning:

Well, the annual struggle with the leaf burning out here where we live, but most especially with the Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbors closest to me, has begun again with the spring shedding of our oak trees out here.  We are in the county, where it is not illegal to burn, but the area we live in is not rural county with acreage around neighbors, but is a typical subdivision where houses are right next to one another, like any other suburban neighborhood in the city. All of the lack of rules, regulations, ordinances and protective covenants that apply to people who do have acres of land between each other, also are missing for those of us who live right on top of each other. It's a nightmare.

Saturday morning I canvassed the neighborhood pleading my case with the neighbors in the houses surrounding mine, to talk with them about my personal health issues with leaf burning, and leaving behind a flyer about how leaf burning affects my ability to breathe...

Click to enlarge
... and attached to that, was a separate document from the EPA that outlines the specific air pollution, health problems, and fire hazard risks associated with residential leaf burning. I guess I went by about 30 or 40 homes in the blocks surrounding our house.

Read this on the EPA site.
The Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbors closest to me weren't home, so I left one rolled up in the gate of the chain link fence that encircles their front yard. Last year either my husband or I told them on 4 separate occasions when they burned, how sick it was making me. We also told them that the smoke was seeping into our attic vent, and into our house, making it impossible for me to escape it.

The 4th time I was told by Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbor Wife to "get over myself" and that she "had no intention to stop burning her leaves."  Yes! She said that! She burned leaves 8 more times in the next month and a half, making me sick for more than two months, and remember ... this is a small, suburban lot. She burned leaves 12 times over a 2 month period on a small suburban lot. Her own son later apologized to me and told me that the excessive burning that she did was on purpose to antagonize me, making it both malicious and intentional.

Late last night, when I was watching television, Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbor Wife was on her way out and apparently stopped by and dropped this off on my door. It's a copy of the back of the flyer that was attached to the EPA document.  My front door was wide open at the time, so she could see through the glass door that I was home and awake, and could have very easily knocked on the door and talked with me, but she just left this instead.

Now, to be honest, I like to think the best of most people, so I thought that maybe she really wasn't aware of the health issues related to residential leaf burning, namely:
☠  The toxic, irritant, and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds released in leaf smoke.

☠  Or that leaf smoke also contains carbon monoxide.

☠  Or that these microscopic particles can reach the deepest regions of the lung and remain there for months or even years, and even cause lung cancer.

☠  Or that a substantial portion of the hydrocarbons in leaf smoke consists of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are known carcinogens (cancer-causers).
Reading this document from the EPA, I really thought that as an RN, she might then have a pang of consciousness and perhaps even some empathy for the health problems and illness she was causing me.

I also thought that being a breast cancer survivor, she might appreciate learning about the toxins and cancer causing properties that burning leaves puts out and be concerned about a recurrence of her own cancer.

I thought she might have concern that she was affecting the health of another family on the other side of her, or another across the street from her, both of whom have several young children.

I thought she might have concern about her own grandson who lives with them full time with his daddy.

Nope. All she was concerned about was this.

That it is not illegal.  And that by me asking her to use another alternative to burning, that I am harassing her.  Oh, yes, and this...

Okay. Guess she didn't see this part...

I left out the part where since she burns so close to my house, and the smoke seeps into my attic vent, then into my attic, then into my house, which quickly fills with the odor of a dirty ashtray, that I cannot even take refuge in my own house to escape it.

I also left out the part that despite it being gorgeous spring weather where I could potentially open up the windows and air out the house, not only can I not do that, but I also have to run my air conditioner to condition the inside air in my house due to her burning smoke seeping into my house.

And, I guess she also missed this part...

Or.... I guess, to her, these issues are "nothing."

I also left out the part about how it also causes extreme difficulty breathing (think gasping for air while it feels like somebody is sitting on your chest and you're having a heart attack), plus nose bleeds, ear and nose congestion, a severe chemical rash reaction to my skin, especially on my face, on top of the panic, anxiety, stress, irritability and exhaustion it causes. 

Since our county supervisors keep shelving this issue and refuse to pass a no burn ordinance for heavily populated unincorporated areas of the county we live in, my only recourse is to take this to the courts.  A ridiculous waste of money for both of us, considering the many alternatives to burning she could be using. In my county, if you simply rake or dump the leaves at the curb, they will pick them up. Or you can use your bag mower to mulch them and put them around your trees and gardens. Or you can use your bag mower to dump them into bags to put on the street.

Do you know that last year, I swear before God as my witness, that after my husband told The Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbor Husband TWICE how sick their leaf burning was making me, I watched him run his mower over the leaves with his bagger on it, then dump the bag of mulched leaves on the side of his house by my back door, and set it on fire? He could have easily dumped that into a garbage bag and put it on the street!!

But, you see, The Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbors think that if it's not illegal, it's okay to do, no matter how it may affect others.

But... there is also this little private nuisance law that applies no matter where you live, because a person has a right to the quiet enjoyment and use of their land under the law, regardless of whether they live in a city or in the county. A private nuisance is something that interferes with that person's use of their property in the manner of comfort, convenience, or health, or in some way disturbs an occupant's mental tranquility. That can include foul odors, SMOKE, dust, loud noises, including excessively barking dogs, or dogs that act vicious or aggressive, even if any injury is only threatened and not actual.

Course, I haven't mentioned yet that since I work full time from home now, she is also interfering with my ability to work when she makes me ill.  

I already know that the law is on my side and that I will prevail. Thankfully I can also sue to recover court costs, attorneys fees, and especially in this case, since the residents there have been informed of my health issues, and that they continue to repeat the contributory behavior, namely burning, that is an act of malice and reckless disregard, subject to monetary awards for pain and suffering for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

It's all just a shame.

You know, it's sad, but I don't need to be their friends.  I don't even need to be friendly with them and I could care less whether they like me or not. So long as they leave me alone and stop infringing on my right to breath, and my right to enjoy my own property, instead of having to hide away inside my home to avoid their hateful behavior.

Thanks to the Other Annoying Neighbors chain smoking in their garage adjacent to my back door, I have already had to use one of these masks almost every time that I go outside - which by the way Annoying Leaf Burning Neighbor Wife, has seen me wearing.

It's not much, but it does seem to help to prevent me from inhaling the cigarette fume chemicals. {I saw the price of cigarettes last time I pumped gas. Geez... seriously, are people willing to pay that much to slowly kill themselves?}

Even still... looks like I'm gonna need to upgrade. Shame all this, ain't it?

Neoprene Carbon Mask
I miss the good ole days when people actually cared about one another.  Such drama.


  1. Neighbors...sometimes you just wish you could move far away.

    While I read your story, though, I was thinking of one thing. When I was a kid, my boyfriend was burning leaves and some poison ivy got mixed in. It spread all over his body...he looked HORRIBLE. Like some kind of burn victim or someone with a really bad disease. It lasted weeks. It can happen...

    There are ways you can annoy your neighbor. Things that are technically legal but that normal people don't do. But that could just perpetuate the problem.

  2. Stephanie, I am just cracking up over you!! Yeah, I think a court of law and a hit in the pocketbook is the ONLY thing that will appeal to these people. Thanks for reading my rant. :)

  3. Okay....I feel your pain, but the first thought I really had when I read this was PLEASE BE CAREFUL! People are crazy! Some neighbors are not the type you want to mess with even when you are right. Several years ago two neighbors in my subdivision began squabbling over mowing issues. It started innocently enough with one neighbor asking the other to please observe property lines (no fences) and ended with one of them being shot dead in his yard by the other. Their feud had gone on for some time and they had both done little things to retaliate against the other. If you ask the widows now...they will tell you it just wasn't worth it. I know it is a health issue for you which makes this a bit different, but be careful.

  4. That's just horrible. I don't think that would be an issue here. They are just lazy people who don't care about anybody else & that's well established with most people in the neighborhood. I pretty much stay away from them & there aren't ever words exchanged. Just notes it would seem, and the next "note" is gonna be from my lawyer. Thanks for the warning though, you're right. People are crazy.

  5. Although I agree with Scraphappy about being careful, I have to say that living in fear and not doing anything is definitely not an answer.
    Mary, I feel like you approached this from a very mature direction and also informative. I've always felt like it was not just a courtesy to be kind to your neighbors, but a duty. I live here on the coast with you and I have to admit that I was wanting to find out where you live and go egg their house or something, LOL. However, that would only antagonize them and make things much worse. More power to you and please let us know how the outcome of the lawsuit turns out. I believe that not only was it SO intelligent of them to write their note on the EPA paper, but it was truly a blessing from God because that shows their total disregard for your health and well-being... not to mention that they were well informed of the issues they are causing.
    In the words of the famous Queen of Hearts, "Off with their [proverbial] heads!"

  6. Thanks & that is exactly what I thought when I got the note - thanks for the evidence! I'm hoping that a letter of intent to sue will be enough to inform them that they are not allowed BY LAW to keep me from enjoying my own property, and that I do have recourse - even if it is not illegal to burn. My ability to breathe takes precedent over their right to burn. That goofball is ignorant enough that she probably thinks she has a countersuit because I left a note on her fence! I just think flat out that she's a bully, which means that she has issues and was probably bullied herself. I kinda feel sorry for her really. Must be miserable to be that miserable.

  7. Blogger Mary said...

    Well, Mary, I am tickled pink to see another Deep Southerner throwing a hissy fit today. I read with the greatest of sympathy your plight with the annoying leaf burning neighbor, my own hastening me many times to retrieve still damp clothes from the line, lest they end up smelling of the smoker. And thank you thank you thank you for the legal recourse heads up, too! Just this day the neighbor's chihuahuas (CHIHUAHUAS!!!!) chased a cat UNDER my house --all under my house, causing a drain pipe to break loose and a section of insulation to fall. I live in the town, proper, and there are leash laws but no available constabulary or pound to enforce them. Not only is it startling and disruptive to the day in this home-based child care provider's work, the dogs are also damaging real property. hmmmm... think I'll start making a legal ruckus with the private nuisance law. Thank you bunches!

  8. Mary: Get um honey.
    Make um pay fity (not fifty)dollars everyday. My mother told me to not act ugly but she never said I shouldn't sue the fools. I say.....get um honey. The Olde Bagg, Linda

    I also suggest the purchase of a big ass of those cyclone things and blow it back on them embers and all.

  9. I know I am a year late. I am not sure you are looking at it from their side. I don't like sending leaves to the landfill and when I have composted I have had problems with moles and mice so burning has been an option that I am exploring this year. There is a service that takes the leaves to a composting site but it cost several hundred dollars each year so I have not taken advantage of that option. If you have an issue of smoke getting into your attic and then into your house you should fix the issue because you are loosing tons of energy through this air leak. I know neighbors should get along but your description comes off as you demanding of them and offering nothing in return. I know I don't know the full story but try to look at their side and how you can compromise as well.

    1. Thanks for leaving your opposing view Travis, and no, you absolutely don't know the whole story, however, when it affects ones ability to breathe, there IS no compromise. My ability to breathe trumps your "privilege" to burn refuse on your property. The law says so.

      I actually wonder what brought you here because clearly you arrived on a search. Anyway, the bottom line is this. When you live in a suburban neighborhood where you share property that is right adjacent to one another, and houses are right on top of one another, you have the responsibility to be a good neighbor. That is what it boils down to. If you want to burn, ask your neighbors how THEY feel about it. Then do the right thing. It's really that simple.

      Where I live, we have FREE county services that pick up leaves here and you don't even have to bag them. You just rake them into that pile and use a wheelbarrow to dump them on the street's edge. There is absolutely no valid reason to burn them. Period.

      If your neighbor presents you with such a health issue - because the chemicals extruded from burning linger in the outside air, polluting the OUTSIDE air for days, not only leaking into your neighbors house, but also affecting their ability to even enjoy their own property and be outside in their own yards - then, instead of making your neighbor a prisoner in their own home, you should do the right thing.

      Turns out my neighbors sought the opinion of a lawyer and they voluntarily agreed to stop burning leaves and I agreed to not sue them. Problem solved. And you know... their lack of burning doesn't seem to have caused them any hardship at all. Would have been nice for them to just stop without going to see a lawyer. That would have been the right thing to do.

      Burning is the least desirable way to dispose of leaves, and has been banned in most suburban areas because of the pollution it creates and the liability. I am sure that there are other options available to you, even it if means raking and bagging them yourself and delivering them to a landfill. Landfills are usually in very rural areas far away from homes and even if they burn, it doesn't affect whole neighborhoods, like having a neighbor burning right at your back door.

      I hope that you or someone that you love NEVER suffers from any kind of lung disease, but if that should ever happen to you, and karma happens, then this will become very clear to you.

      Do the right thing. Don't pollute.

    2. Hi,

      You say the law says so, and I was wondering where it can be claimed. Can we call it criminal negligence without malicious intent? I live in Louisiana, and I am experiencing the same issue with my neighbors. The burning laws, of course, are very loose, but I think disregarding the health of neighbors with smoke should be illegal. The last 3 days I asked him to stop burning. He puts out the fire the first two days. However, each morning, he lights the same piles up again and I've never felt so sick in my life. Today, I had a deputy come talk to him and I can only hope it curbs the issue. My wife and I live in the country in a trailer park/farm. They have acres of land to burn but they choose right by our trailer for some odd reason.

      My wife and I are graduate students, so we can't afford to move. However, I'm finding hard ground to stand on in terms of the law. I'm not sure if the deputy will get through to them and if it starts again, I would like to have grounds. I know the laws are different, but were you able to find laws you could cite for defending your claims against the neighbors.

      Thank you for any information.

      P.S. This is about the sickest I've felt ever. I don't smoke and hardly ever drink, and inhaling the smoke makes me feel like I've done both habitually

    3. I feel your pain because I know it is horrible. Just taking my dog outside, going out in my yard to garden or do anything outside when that is actively burning or even a day or two later causes severe lung pain for me. I'd be willing to guess that your neighbor is likely a smoker - doesn't bother them, but they've probably already destroyed their lungs. I'm glad the deputy came out to talk to them & hope that it will deter them, or at least make them burn away from your home.

      I know how you're feeling & I just don't understand why people are so self centered these days that it's that all about me attitude & I could care less about you. Neighbors used to care about one another & would never have dreamed of doing something that was harmful to a neighbor, especially once they were told!

      There is little you can do using typical legal avenues in place such as existing burn ordinances & such when they aren't already in place, though you can fight to have them put in place. That takes attending board of supervisor meetings and bringing it up. Continually. Gathering neighbors to fight with you to get an ordinance in place limiting burning to certain times, distance, etc.

      What they are doing is interfering not only with your health but also with your right to use your own property under private nuisance laws, so you'll have to take them to court by bringing a personal civil lawsuit against them. Here's the basics of the law: It's not the ideal way to go but sometimes with idiots it is the only way, and an attorney will have to give you your options.

      Best of luck - I really do feel your pain. I personally contacted my neighbors for 2 city blocks and with the exception of 2 who refuse to stop (one burns at night as if that makes any difference) everybody has quit burning after realizing the cancer causing chemicals it releases. Fortunately neither of those 2 live right in my immediate area.

    4. Another late comer here. Travis I wonder if you realize that sending leaves to the landfill will actually help heal what is happening with the huge scar on the land that is piles and piles of garbage? Increasing the amount of healthy bacteria in the soil will help speed up the breakdown of the less environmentally friendly things left behind. Leaves are MEANT to decompose. Nature is a beautiful thing. Send your little leaf soldiers to help resolve the issues created by the landfill, save yourself some time and effort and help your neighbors out all at the same time!

  10. I know this is really after the fact, but I can and do understand just how you feel, Mary.

    Until a person has been there they just don't know what it's like. I have COPD caused from a lifetime of chronic bronchitis and lung issues. I can't be around any kind of smoke. If I'm out somewhere and someone lights up a cigarette around me it cuts of my air. It doesn't just make it hard to for me to breathe. I can't breathe period. It's terrible being like this. I can't even go to a BBQ anymore because it's gotten worse. There is so much I can't do and I so appreciate it when people understand and are willing to go the extra and do what they can to help me out.

    When someone can't breathe and all the other person cares about is "getting them back" this is just being down right cruel. It's uncalled for and in my opinion it takes a sick person to do such as was done to you. I applaud you for going about it the way you did. I also live on the Gulf Coast and I fortunate that I do have very good neighbors.

    For the guy that said you should look at it from their side... what is their side really. They can't burn a few leaves... well they don't have a potentially life threatening breathing problem. That's the way it is for me now. It's life threatening. The last time I got in an area where there was smoke I ended up in the hospital.

    Until you've been there you just don't know.

    1. Thanks so much for the note of support - the problem is ongoing but I am still fighting!

  11. How is your fight against burning going? I have two neighbors that must burn everyday. One guy mows the empty lot next door to his house just to have extra leaves to burn!

    1. Hi! So sorry to hear that. I just don't understand that obsession with burning. Well, for a variety of reason, we relocated, but I imagine they are all still at it. The folks we sold to were smokers, and I find that most of the people who burn seem to also smoke, so I guess they are all having a field day with the burn parties now!

  12. I just found this blog, while looking for remedies as we face the same situation in our neighborhood tonight. Coincedently, I just had soffit vents installed today, to improve my attic ventilation. So now, the smoke is infiltrating my attic and being pulled into my HVAC system in the attic.
    The person above who stated you should fix your attic air issues to address the smoke getting in, shows his ignorance of home construction. Homes and buildings are not designed to be airtight, but actually need to breathe in many areas, to avoid moisture and ice build up. Even if your house was designed "airtight", smoke penetrates almost anywhere. This problem, as you have mentioned above, is an example of how little care most people have for others feelings and in this case, health and welfare of others in our country. We have had business call 911 for employees passing out during leaf-burning in our town, yet the practice continues. I have eight large trees in my yard and haven't had to burn one leaf in fourteen years. I can take you to the spot I dumped the leaves five months ago, and you won't be able to spot it. They disentegrate. The problem is, as it is with most obnoxious behavior, is the people that do these things, don't respond to reason, logic, or others concerns. In fact , as is the case with your former neighbors, it actually enrages them and they increase the behavior. Here in West Virginia, we have had whole industries severely curtailed (Coal), over air quality, cigarette smoking curtailed within 15 ft of a public doorway, yet, you can smoke a whole neighborhood out with leaf burning everyday. This issue unfortunately needs to be addressed by laws to protect the public good.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through this, but you are right. There is a lack of respect for others in this world today, sadly. Best of luck in your fight!

    2. I feel your pain :( We live in a rural area along a riverbed entirely populated by cottonwood trees. While the trees are absolutely beautiful they also drop branches like they're going out of style. The neighbors on one side have 40 acres of land completely covered in old growth cottonwoods. As you can imagine, the amount of dead branches and trees that drop and fall over each year is overwhelming. These neighbors have had a practice of going through and making huge piles of the dead wood and root balls and letting them smolder for WEEKS. Because they graze cattle on the property there are also piles of plastic twine used to hold their hay bales together that they like to burn as well. Last time they did it there was a pile burning less than 100 feet from our house. I am especially sensitive to this smoke. I will start getting a migraine and can feel my sinuses and throat drying out long before I can even smell the smoke. It is awful and it would be tolerable if it were only even for a few hours but days and weeks at a time makes it so I am forced to leave town until the burn season is over. You can imagine how frustrating this is. Not wanting to cause trouble with the neighbors and after 4 years of explaining that we can not escape the smoke even in our own home, we finally decided to pay for a commercial sized garbage dump so they'll throw their baleing twine away and offered to remove the wood from their property for them each year. It's a massive undertaking requiring 3-4 days from 3-4 people which we pay for entirely. NO. It's not a fair arrangement seeing how it's not our property and we could easily take them to court over it and win. On the other hand, we still have a great relationship with these guys and have a peaceful smoke-free home year round. If I had to do it all over again (which I will come next spring) I would still pay for the removal of the dead wood to avoid a feud with neighbors I know I will have for another 40 years. I'm just grateful that they were not the type to say no to our offered solution simply to be that way.

  13. We have the same issue, and we're going to ask our county to make a law that limits on the number of times people can burn leaves per month (or we'll sue the county if they don't act).

    Actually, at least where I am, if you have medical issues affected by the burning you can provide that and get the county to stop the neighbor from burning leaves.


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