The Legal History of the Lawn

At one point in time, mowing the lawn and maintaining a landscape was a sign of wealth.

Now, the lawn is so ingrained in society that: not maintaining your lawn could lead to a fine, or even losing your home.

It gets even crazier, but some people claim adverse possession of others’ land, simply by maintaining it.

So what is the legal history of the lawn, and why do we have lawns?

Let’s find out…

Laws about lawns, the legal history of the lawn

The History of the Lawn

The theory for the original lawn is believed to stem back to the ancient African Savannah, where the people could see for far distances, with little visual obstruction.

With inspiration from the grasses of the African Savannah, the earliest written existence of the lawn comes from ancient Japan. Where the text called “Aatu-tei-kaiI” or “Sakuteiki” was written. This book covered the first known writing on the practices of sodding.

From this point, the legal history of lawns grew mostly in the dark, and we don’t see lawns on record again until the 12th century.

It wasn’t until the 12th century that we started to see the emergence of the lawn as we know it today. These lawns were maintained by scythe and grazing animals. It is believed that the lawn began as a sign of wealth, as most land surrounding homes was reserved for growing crops and food.

But, there are some legal theories that suggest that lawns were actually a method of owning a landscape through maintenance.

Here’s the deal, to understand the lawn, we have to take a look at the theory of “property rights”.

Lawn maintenance and property ownership

What are Property Rights?

As you may already know, property rights refer to:

” …any type of right to specific property whether it is personal or real property, tangible or intangible.”

-Blacks Law Dictionary 5th Edition. Page 1096

In the US, this includes the individuals right to private property. Whether that purpose is to hold, rent, or sell that property.

For the most part, property rights are pretty straight forward, and most of us have a general understanding of them.

However, by looking at the legal history lawns have played in society, we can begin to develop a deeper grasp of what it truly means to “own” property.

laws on lawns and their history

Locke, a philosopher and an original proponent of the scientific method of the 17th century, had a legal theory of his own. His theory reasoned that labor rights (or maintenance) of property could lead to property ownership.

Locke argued in support of individual property rights as natural rights. Following the argument the fruits of one’s labor are one’s own because one worked for it. Furthermore, the laborer must also hold a natural property right in the resource itself because exclusive ownership was immediately necessary for production.

Labor theory of property
owning a lawn through labor

How Far Back Does the Labor Theory of Property Go?

It is unlikely that Locke was the first to come up with the labor theory of property.

In fact, it would seem that if you look at the history of property of land ownership, it is a logical assumption that the original land became owned by those that worked the land.

“You own what you can maintain…”

-Unknown Origin

Though the history of property ownership through labor rights is largely undocumented, logically the idea is nothing new. Similar laws are still on the books to this day.

Laws about the history of the lawn

Adverse Possession Through Lawn Care

Though we don’t have a written historical record for land ownership through property maintenance, we do have laws today that stem from an unseen past.

It’s true, property ownership through mowing the lawn. It’s actually a thing!

At least in some states.

Similar to “squatter’s rights”, a person who maintains a lawn through mowing it for an allotted amount of time, can come to own the land!

According to the article by Home Steady, paying property tax may assist you in claiming adverse possession of the land you are maintaining.

laws about lawns

Losing Property For Failure to Mow the Lawn

This is crazy, but it goes even deeper.

Cities across America levy fines against homeowners that fail to mow or maintain their lawns.

Some cities, like those in Dunedin, Florida. Have gone as far as to foreclose and auction off properties when their owners refuse to maintain their lawns.

That’s right. Failure to keep your lawn maintained, and refusing to pay the fines, may result in your home being auctioned off. It seems that the laws about cutting grass are becoming more and more common.

But is this legal recourse just history reminding us of where lawns came from?

Legal History of the Lawn– What is the Bottom Line?

The legal history of lawn and property ownership has a surprisingly little documented history. We see through the legal theories of Locke, and even modern statutory laws, that the history of lawn care may have been much more important than we have yet recognized.

In an age where people need insurance for their landscaping to protect it from storms, it is needless to say the the history of the lawn, and the laws surrounding it, have come a long way!

I anticipate that one day we will uncover that maintaining lawns and property was indeed one of the original methods of land ‘ownership”. Though I have looked into the topic before, it seems that our written history does not recount this theory.

Only time will tell.

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