Stop Six resident Tracy Rolla takes pride in caring for her 1922 home off of Ramey Avenue as the fifth generation of her family living in that residence.

As spring blooms, she is working on her yard — cutting the grass, trimming bushes, and planting flowers. 

But while she is working hard to upkeep her property, some nearby lots are overrun with overgrown bushes, brush and shrubs. Not only does it look unkept, she and other residents worry about what it could attract.

People are living in tents on some of these vacant, unkept lots, she said. 

“That can be a nuisance, too, because you don’t know if people live in vacant lots or lots where there’s a lot of overgrown brush,” Rolla said. 

The overgrown brush and grass have also attracted rodents, stray animals and illegal dumping, Rolla said.

But when she tried to get Fort Worth’s code compliance officers out to inspect, she said she was repeatedly told nothing could be done about it. 

“What they’re saying is there’s no ordinance. So what I’m trying to find out as a constituent, what do we do in the community to try to get an ordinance?” Rolla said. “You’re telling me there’s nothing you can do but you’re not telling me what can we do to try to cut this.”

The city, however, appears to have an ordinance to deal with the situation Rolla is describing. It’s known as the nuisance vegetation ordinance, which says it’s a violation if the property in question “creates an unsanitary condition likely to attract or harbor mosquitoes, rodents, vermin or other disease-carrying pests, regardless of the height of the vegetation.”

Furthermore, it’s also illegal for the property to conceal “the habitual occurrence of criminal activity.”

Two lots on Village Creek Road: one is unkept, the other clean. (Sandra Sadek | Fort Worth Report)

Brandon Bennett, director of code compliance for the city, explained that untrimmed trees and bushes that do not cause health or safety hazards are considered a civil matter.

The city does not have a mechanism to decide “what’s pretty and what’s not pretty.”

“Let’s say there are parts of towns where sometimes we have problems with prostitution, where the prostitutes take the Johns out into a field that’s overgrown with trees and bushes. That would be nuisance vegetation. Sometimes nuisance vegetation conceals ongoing illegal dumping that pollutes our rivers and our streams. That would be nuisance vegetation,” Bennett said. “But just vegetation that’s untrimmed, trees that are not trimmed and bushes that are untrimmed, it would continue to be a civil matter.”

The city’s code officers determine what is considered a nuisance if it meets the requirements noted in the ordinance, Bennett said. The officers also receive training on how to determine what is nuisance vegetation and have been enforcing the ordinance as written, he said. 

“Most of the calls that we get about unkept brush are cosmetic, one neighbor versus the other neighbor. That’s the vast majority of the calls,” Bennett said. “When it’s like fields and stuff like that, where we have the litter, the dumping, the prostitution — we’re enforcing those.”

In the case of rodents or insects, for example, it has to be an infestation to be considered a nuisance.

“It has to rise above the level of what would be normal and that’s the infestation,” he said. “A single rat is not an infestation. Infestation is where… you see rats running during the day.”

The challenge with the ordinance, Bennett said, is balancing enforcement with property owners’ rights.

“This is the challenge that we had in writing this ordinance,” he said. “All of our ordinances are criminal ordinances,  which means they have to rise to the level of a criminal threshold. So you have to take that into account when you’re talking about it. It has to be a criminal infestation or has to be a real criminal activity.”


   (a)   Offense. An owner, occupant or person in control of private property commits an offense if he or she fails to maintain the property free of rank or uncultivated vegetation that:

      (1)   Creates an unsanitary condition likely to attract or harbor mosquitoes, rodents, vermin, or other disease-carrying pests, regardless of the height of the vegetation; or

      (2)   Conceals the habitual occurrence of criminal activity on the property; and

      (3)   Such rank or uncultivated vegetation has existed on the property for a continuous period of time in excess of 30 calendar days.

   (b)   Defenses. It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the vegetation is:

      (1)   An agricultural crop;

      (2)   A cultivated tree or shrub; or

      (3)   Located in an arranged or managed natural habitat preservation area or garden where weed control or other periodic maintenance occurs.

The city also has an ordinance for overgrown grass and weed. City code requires property owners to keep grass and weeds in their yards and vacant lots under 12 inches. But that ordinance is different from the nuisance vegetation ordinance.

Overgrown brush on the property adjacent to Stop Six resident Katie Benford’s property, May 17. (Sandra Sadek | Fort Worth Report)

Past Fort Worth Report reporting shows that the city tends to concentrate its code violations in lower-income areas like Stop Six. 

Katie Benford, 73, lives in her house on the corner of Langston Street and Ramey Avenue. She also owns the property across the street from her house, which shares a boundary with a vacant lot that has overgrown brushes. 

Benford said she has reached out to code compliance as well as the owner of the vacant lot. Nothing has been done, she said.

“I wish somebody would come in and just cut right in there. They’re never really taking care of it,” Benford said. 

When the issue of overgrown bushes and shrubs is a civil matter, residents will have to take up the matter in their own hands, Bennett said. 

There are options residents can pursue, he said.

First, residents can get in touch with a civil lawyer to see what their options are. Many will argue that an unkept property impacts the value of their property. 

Other options include resolving the matter between the two property owners. If you don’t feel comfortable personally mediating with your neighbor, Tarrant County has a dispute resolution program that provides its residents with “a cost-effective, non-adversarial resolution to litigation or conflict.”

While Fort Worth does not have an overgrown bush ordinance, other smaller surrounding cities like Haltom City do. But for Fort Worth, Bennett said the city lawyers recommended that the current nuisance ordinance works best considering the city’s “sheer size and zoning and development.”

“When we were developing the ordinance, I tried to push this farther towards making nuisance vegetation more enforceable, that we can enforce it under even more circumstances. But that’s as far as we can get,” Bennett said.

Rolla disagrees; she says her well-being is at stake.

“They don’t live next door to a whole bunch of brush and high grass and animals digging holes in your yard. You’re not living like that so why would you want us to live like that?” she said. “We’re not asking for million-dollar homes. We just want to have a better quality of life.”

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at or on Twitter at @ssadek19

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Sandra SadekBusiness Reporter

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...