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breaking news Can I Make My Neighbor Mow His Lawn?

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Q: I live in a single-family house in Queens. My next-door neighbor mows his lawn once, maybe twice a year. The grass is already knee high, and I’m dreading the summer. I’m also worried that the high grass could attract vermin and other pests. What can I do to make him mow?

A: The first spring I owned a house, my husband and I bought a reel mower. But it had to be assembled. We put off the task because how fast does grass really grow in April? Pretty fast, it turned out. And then my husband was in an accident, and on bed rest, and the grass kept growing. I had small children, an injured spouse and no idea what to do. I finally called a local garden center and, bless them, they sent a crew to help.

I tell this story to point out that you might not know why your neighbor rarely mows. It’s certainly possible the lawn is not his priority, or he likes the wild aesthetic. But he may have more understandable reasons for neglecting his responsibility.

You could call 311 and report the situation. City rules require homeowners to keep open spaces “free from dirt, filth, garbage or other offensive materials,” and a lawn that attracts vermin would violate that rule, according to Bruce Cholst, a real estate litigator and a partner in the New York office of the law firm Herrick, Feinstein.

But before you report your neighbor, find out what’s going on and see if you can help.

“It’s always better to have a good relationship with your neighbor,” said Michele Kirschbaum, the director of programs at the New York Peace Institute, which offers free mediation to New Yorkers. “You see each other every day — you might need them for something, they might need you for something.”

Talk to your neighbor about the grass, using open-ended language to inquire about his summer maintenance plans. Resist the urge to be judgmental. Instead, explain the problem from your point of view. You’re worried about vermin. Mosquitoes, for example, like to hide in tall grass. Ask him what can be done to keep the lawn under control.

He might have physical, financial or time constraints that make it hard for him to keep up. You could offer to mow. If you have a neighborhood or block association, contact them for guidance. Other neighbors might be willing to pool money to hire someone to do the work (I imagine you’re not the only one who’s bothered by the eyesore). If he rebuffs your request, you could enlist the Peace Institute to mediate. As Ms. Kirschbaum said, “The whole point is you’re trying to make it collaborative, helpful.”

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