Lawn enforcement: How municipal policies and neighborhood norms influence homeowner residential landscape management

John M. Sisser, Kristen C. Nelson, Kelli Larson, Laura A. Ogden, Colin Polsky, Rinku Roy Chowdhury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


As urban areas expand in population and geographic spread, residential landscapes become more pervasive, which is often associated with an increase in turfgrass that can contribute to changes in water use and nutrient flows. Management of these landscapes is influenced at multiple scales-municipal policies, individual homeowner decision-making, and neighborhood norms, and municipal policies. Most municipalities implement policies that encourage (i.e., weed and grass height ordinances) and restrict (i.e., irrigation ordinances) lawn management. But what is the relationship between yard ordinances, homeowner awareness of these ordinances, and neighborhood yard norms? We explored this question through homeowner interviews and a review of yard ordinances in 17 cities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area as well as interviews with code enforcement officers. We found most municipalities have lawn irrigation restrictions and weed or grass height ordinances, yet generally rely on complaints from neighbors to enforce these lawn management policies. This may be helpful when it comes to policies reinforcing agreed upon social norms-like grass height ordinances-but may be difficult with policies acting against the norm-like lawn irrigation restrictions. Additionally, homeowners in suburban areas posted high rates of awareness of local policies. Homeowner comments suggest social norms regarding lawn management are present across the urban gradient; weed-free and mowed lawns were most commonly identified. These findings have implications for policy development moving forward as cities face issues related to water scarcity or try to accommodate changing resident desires for natural landscaping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Enforcement
  • Grass height
  • Homeowner awareness
  • Irrigation
  • Lawn ordinance
  • Norms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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