Seeing smoke billowing from a neighbor’s yard or open fire from trash burning can stir up unease and objection. While many areas allow responsible recreational burning, certain materials and practices are typically prohibited. Smoke from burning trash like plastics in excessive volumes, during fire bans, or close to homes presents risks. Even permitted burning of a bonfire can generate disruptive smoke for neighbors. If a nearby resident is burning in a way that violates local laws or causes worrisome pollution, you have options for constructively addressing the issue.
The first step is educating yourself on the backyard open burning rules or even setting off fireworks in your city or county so you know what outdoor burning practices are allowed or prohibited by the Department of Natural Resources or local health department.
Make reasonable attempts to discuss your concerns directly with the neighbors involved and ask them to stop or modify the burning. In our guide, you can learn more about neighbors burning and how it affects the health and the environment. By the end, you’ll better understand how to deal with burning of garbage, how burning can also cause respiratory illness, and how to report illegal burning. (Learn How To Stop Cars From Turning Around In Your Driveway)
How to Complain About Neighbors Burning Trash, Leaves, or Other Materials
Seeing or smelling smoke from a neighbor burning trash, leaves, brush, or other materials can be annoying and concerning when you find you feel the symptoms in my own house. Depending on your area, it can be illegal to burn trash, hazardous, or merely a nuisance.
Excessive smoke, burning plastics or chemicals, unattended fires, or neighbors burning yard waste cause many potential health problems.
Understand Local Open Burning Regulations
Laws regarding open burning vary significantly depending on your city, county, and state. Some areas prohibit all recreational fires and open burning, while others allow burning with proper permitting. Research the specific open burning regulations in your jurisdiction to know what is allowed or prohibited.
This gives you a reference point for any potential violations to report.
- Common restrictions include:
- Burning of trash or certain materials
- Fire size limits
- Burning during fire bans
- The distance required from structures
- Time of day restrictions
- Unattended fires
Contact your local fire department, environmental, or natural resources agency to learn the rules. This information puts you on firm ground when reporting unlawful burning.
Document the Burning and Your Complaint
Thoroughly document the inappropriate burning with photos, videos, and notes each time it occurs. Photograph the neighbor while burning to confirm their identity and the materials being burned if possible. Note the date, time, wind, and weather conditions that could spread smoke or fire. Also, record if the fire is unattended.
Log complaints made, who you contacted, and any responses received. This paper trail supports your claims if the problem persists and requires further reporting. Detailed records also help identify patterns, such as burning on weekends, windy days, or during prohibited seasons. (Read My Neighbor Has Too Many Cars Parked On The Street)
Contact the Neighbor Directly
Friendly, direct communication should be your first step. Speak with your neighbor, and let them know about the problems burning leaves and trash are causing. Have any documentation available to illustrate the unwanted impact their outdoor fire is causing? They may not realize local burning laws or how the smoke affects you. Remain calm and open to compromise, like allowing certain times or conditions to minimize exposure.
Call the Fire Department If Burning Is Illegal
If talking with your neighbor fails to resolve the issue, call the fire department’s non-emergency line if the burning violates local ordinances.
Explain the situation and have your documentation ready. Request their help enforcing local open burning regulations with the non-compliant neighbor. In a serious emergency, like an uncontrolled fire spreading rapidly, call 911 immediately, of course. Otherwise, follow the proper non-emergency procedures for your area.
Contact Air Quality or Environmental Agencies
For permitted agricultural burns, excessive smoke, or toxic emissions, contact your local air quality management district or state environmental agency. Explain your complaint, health impacts, documentation, and attempts to resolve it directly. They can investigate if burning violates air quality regulations and order corrective action.
Notify Local Law Enforcement If Problems Persist
As a last resort for neighbors committing blatant illegal burning without correcting their actions, contact local law enforcement or the police department. File an official nuisance or burning violation complaint.
Attend Community Council Meetings
Get on the agenda of a local community council or government meeting to raise awareness of the issue. Local councils can apply peer pressure on unlawful burners or develop community-wide burning guidelines. This mobilizes neighbors and authorities to find solutions. (Read Person Sitting In Car Outside My House)
Offer Alternatives to Your Neighbor’s Burning
Providing alternatives to burning to stop burning practices with better options. Suggest services that collect and compost leaves, branches, and organic materials for yard waste or trash disposal. Support banning together as a neighborhood to contract curbside yard waste collection services rather than causing fire hazards with fires left unattended or filling yards with toxic fumes.
For heat or cooking, give information on clean wood stove technologies, outdoor wood furnaces, or propane/gas burning options that reduce smoke. Getting neighbors to transition to cleaner alternatives voluntarily engages them as collaborators, not adversaries.
Construct a Fence or Plant Barriers
If talking, reporting, and enforcement fail when neighbors like to keep burning, physical barriers may help contain smoke and emissions on their property.
Constructing a tall privacy fence or planting dense evergreen vegetation along the property line can obstruct prevailing winds. This may keep the bulk of smoke from reaching your house. Work with the neighbor first, but barriers are a last resort for limiting exposure.
FAQs: Illegal Burning Rules
If you would like to report your neighbors for causing public health problems from burning and harmful chemicals giving off toxic fumes. You need to know a few things before you ruin a neighbor’s relationship.
What are my rights if a neighbor’s burning violates local laws?
You have the right to report unlawful burning to local authorities and request enforcement of local regulations. Keep detailed records and contact information to support your claims of recurring violations.
Can I sue a neighbor for repeatedly allowing hazardous smoke onto my property?
You may consult an attorney about civil action against a neighbor if all other attempts to stop verifiably unhealthy or damaging smoke pollution fail. However, cooperative solutions should be prioritized before legal action.
What materials are typically prohibited from open burning?
Common prohibited materials include plastics, rubber, chemicals, household trash, construction debris, painted or treated wood, and wet leaves or vegetation. Burning these items releases toxic emissions that can harm the nervous system.
Can my local fire department force a neighbor to extinguish an illegal burn?
Yes, the fire department has the authority to require a neighbor to cease illegal burning activity and extinguish unsafe or prohibited fires. Failure to comply can result in citations or fines. A burn permit may still be required from the local police or fire department.
Should I report occasional burning if it only causes minor smoke?
Address even minor smoke concerns by politely talking with the neighbor before escalating complaints to authorities. But document issues in case the pattern becomes more frequent or hazardous. (Read Can You Work On A Car In A Storage Unit)
What information do I need to provide when reporting unlawful neighbor burning?
Have the burning neighbor’s address, contact details, description of materials burned, photos/video, burning dates and times, weather conditions, prior complaints, and health impacts experienced ready to document your report fully.
Are there any exceptions where burning household trash may be allowed?
In rare cases, rural areas lacking trash collection may allow residents to burn small quantities of paper household waste. But this is very unusual and requires permitting. Burning plastics, chemicals, or other hazardous waste is universally prohibited. Even branches from a tree cannot be hauled to another site to be burned.
What should I do if a neighbor’s fire spreads out of control towards my home?
Call 911 immediately if a neighbor’s open fire spreads dangerously and threatens your or other nearby structures. Evacuate your home if needed for safety.
How far from my house must my neighbor’s fire pit be located?
Commonly required fire pit distances from structures are 25-100 feet, but please see your local ordinances for specific separation mandates. Fires must always be at a safe distance to prevent fire spread.