This article was written by Thomas Oriet, Esq, LLM, EA, an Of-Counsel attorney who focuses on asset protection, estate planning, and agricultural law at the Law Offices of Casey D. Conklin.
From farmers’ fields to suburban front lawns, noxious weeds are a public nuisance to the masses. Michigan and many other jurisdictions enacted a legal obligation to destroy noxious weeds. Some landowners don’t know about their legal responsibilities. Meanwhile, some neighboring farmers simply need a reminder of what to look for when scouting their fields. In this article, we will review where you can find the Michigan law and the weeds to look for on your property.
The most personalized evaluation is your local laws. A city or town may enact charter provisions or zoning ordinances obliging landowners to remove or destroy weeds for the public’s general welfare. Michigan townships may destroy weeds as a public service, which is levied on the residents. The County Board of Commissioners may devote funds to destroying noxious weeds within the county and adopt an ordinance, which may impose civil fines or a penalty not exceeding $100. In theory, Michigan cities and townships can appoint a commissioner to manage the noxious weeds, but the enforcement of weed control legislation is typically commingled with another supervisory role. Some jurisdictions detest weed control for aesthetic purposes; however, in Michigan, zoning and weed control ordinances are permissible for aesthetic reasons only if there is another, more important justification for the ordinances besides the aesthetic benefit. Overall, local governments have many options under their statutory police powers to abate public nuisances.
Why should I care about ordinances? The one of the appellate cases discussing the Michigan statutory obligation for landowners to control their weeds refers to a criminal case and ordinance violation. In People v McKendrick, the City of Ferndale found McKendrick in violation of the city’s noxious weed and the-grass-is-too-tall ordinance. After adequate notice was given to remedy the situation, the City Weed Inspector issued an order to cut the tall grass. At the time, marijuana was illegal in the State of Michigan, and the city-hired lawn service discovered marijuana plants growing in buckets located in McKendrick’s backyard. What was a simple demand to cut the grass became a full police investigation. In summary, if you don’t want people on your property, control your noxious weeds. If you want to maintain good neighborly relations, destroy noxious weeds on your land as to not harm your neighbor’s farming operations. Noxious weeds quickly spread, and people may easily discover which neighbor started the spread of noxious weeds.
Many farms in Michigan are rented, and landlords can partially delegate the noxious weed control duty to their commercial tenant. Landlords should consider setting a time limit on terminating the noxious weed; otherwise, the tenant can destroy the weeds within a “reasonable time” and the landlord would have no recourse against the tenant for failing to destroy the noxious weeds within the statutory constraints. Consequently, the landlord will remain liable for failing to destroy the noxious weeds with no option of relief from the tenant.
State Statutory Law. Although a municipality may designate other weeds as a common nuisance worthy of being called a noxious weed, the Michigan legislature classifies the following as noxious weeds:
· Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense),
· dodders (any species of Cuscuta),
· mustards (charlock, black mustard, and Indian mustard, species of Brassica or Sinapis),
· wild carrot (Daucus carota),
· bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis),
· perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis),
· hoary alyssum (Berteroa incana),
· giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum),
· ragweed (Ambrosia elatior l.), and poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron),
· poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)
The landowner has a duty to destroy the above-mentioned noxious weeds before they reach the seed-bearing stage, but there are other Michigan statutes prescribing more noxious weeds, particularly for the sale and advertisement of seeds.
For new farmers that would like to learn how to identify noxious weeds, Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources has an online index to identify weeds with pictures.
Further Reading: Mangold, J. M., Fuller, K. B., Davis, S. C., & Rinella, M. J. (2018). The economic cost of noxious weeds on montana grazing lands. Invasive Plant Science and Management, 11(2), 96-100 (the Canada Thistle is a problem everywhere).
Thomas Oriet, Esq, LLM, EA, is an Of-Counsel attorney specializing in asset protection, estate planning, and agricultural law at the Law Offices of Casey D. Conklin.
[** The information in this article is not legal advice and must only be used for educational purposes. Please consult with an attorney before making any decision. The author will not be updating the article due to changes in the law.]
 MCL 247.64; S.D. Codified Laws § 38-22-16  MCL 117.3(j) (mandatory city charters for the public welfare); MCL 41.181(1) (townships can adopt ordinances for the general welfare of the people and property.)  MCL 41.411(1)(a).  MCL 247.70.  MCL 247.61  See e.g. City of Kalamazoo Code of City Ordinances § 21-3 <https://ecode360.com/34288302> (The City Manager oversees compliance with noxious weeds).  Wolverine Sign Works v. City of Bloomfield Hills,279 Mich. 205, 208, 271 N.W. 823, 825 (1937). See also Detroit Edison Co. v. City of Wixom,382 Mich. 673, 172 N.W.2d 382(1969); 1426 Woodward Ave. Corp. v. Wolff,312 Mich. 252, 20 N.W.2d 217 (1945); Central Advertising Co. v. Ann Arbor,42 Mich.App. 59, 201 N.W.2d 365 (1972), rev. and remanded 391 Mich. 533, 218 N.W.2d 27 (1974).  See generally Cady v. Detroit, 289 Mich. 499, 504-05, 286 N.W. 805, 807 (1939)  People v. McKendrick, 188 Mich. App. 128, 130, 468 N.W.2d 903, 905 (1991)  People v. McKendrick, 188 Mich. App. 128, 131, 468 N.W.2d 903, 905 (1991)  See generally Lowe v. Radecke, 204 Mich. 646, 171 N.W. 408 (1919).  MCL 247.62  MCL 247.64(1)  MCL 286.709(1)(c), (1)(d); MICH. ADMIN. CODE R 285.715.7  https://www.canr.msu.edu/ipm/agriculture/field_crops/identifying_weeds_in_field_crops