There is a movement afoot among Long Island municipalities to regulate or, in some cases, ban the planting, growing or cultivation of bamboo within their communities.  To some, bamboo is an exotic evergreen plant that creates an attractive and effective privacy screen.  To others, however, it is an aggressive, invasive plant that causes ecological harm and significant damage to property, if not properly contained.  The fast-growing roots, or rhizomes, of certain varieties of bamboo plants have been known to buckle driveway surfaces, puncture swimming pool walls, and compromise underground sanitary systems and utility lines.

The Town of Smithtown recently became the first Long Island Town to adopt sweeping regulation on the planting and growing of bamboo.  Smithtown’s ordinance provides that “no owner, tenant or occupier of property anywhere in the Town of Smithtown shall cause, suffer or allow bamboo to be planted, maintained or otherwise permitted to exist within 10 feet of any property line, street, sidewalk or public right-of-way.  Violators of this law are subject to monetary fines and may be ordered to remove the bamboo.  In certain instances, the Town may enter onto the violator’s property and remove the bamboo and assess the cost thereof against the property by adding it to the property’s tax bill.  The Towns of Brookhaven and Hempstead, the City of Long Beach, and the Villages of Woodsburgh and The Branch, have all followed by passing similar legislation.  At the present time, the Towns of Oyster Bay and Islip are considering the adoption of their own bamboo regulations.

Several years earlier, the Fire Island Villages of Saltaire and Ocean Beach adopted local laws regulating the planting and growing of bamboo.  Saltaire’s law prohibits the planting or growing of bamboo anywhere within the Village.  The local law, however, contains an exception for bamboo that was planted or otherwise permitted to grow prior to the effective date of the local law, provided that the property owner takes measures to prevent the bamboo from invading or spreading onto adjoining or neighboring properties.  According to the Village Code, violations of the local law are subject to a fine of up to $250 per day, in addition to civil and criminal penalties.  Last year, the Village of Babylon adopted a local law that was very similar to the one adopted by Saltaire.

However, not all Long Island municipalities have seen fit to regulate bamboo.  This past December, the Village of Sag Harbor voted to withdraw proposed legislation regulating bamboo from further consideration.  After two public hearings, at which the Village Board heard from both proponents and opponents of the proposed legislation, the Board unanimously determined that the situations in which bamboo causes problems between neighbors were too varied to legislate.  This past summer, a proposed law regulating bamboo in the Town of Huntington was defeated by a split vote of the Town Council.

While governmental regulation of bamboo is undoubtedly welcomed by those who are threatened by, or suffered from, a neighbor’s invasive bamboo, such regulations are only enforceable by the municipalities themselves.  For those who wish to take matters into their own hands, a property owner may trim any invasive bamboo roots or limbs at the property line, provided that the trimming is done in such a way that does not permanently injure the bamboo or adversely impact the bamboo’s physical integrity.  A victim of invasive bamboo may also assert claims based on traditional trespass and private nuisance[1] and seek recovery of money damages for the consequences of the trespass and/or an injunction against future trespass or nuisance.

[1] See, e.g., Yager v. Thompson, 1 Misc.3d 902A (District Ct., Nassau Co. 2003), affirmed, 8 Misc.3d 138A (App. Term 2005).