Buck Owens, country music legend, famous for, among other things, plucking a red, white and blue guitar on the variety show Hee Haw, wrote and performed the song “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass?” which hit No. 1 on the country charts in 1969. My wife and I liked Buck Owens so much that we picked his hit “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” for our walk up song to be played after exchanging our wedding vows. Later, we named our cat after Buck Owens.
Anyway, the song “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass?” is about love lost, a common theme in popular music. This blog post is about land lost, a common theme in inverse condemnation cases.
Can the State Take Your Land Simply By Mowing the Grass?
In the Campbell v. State of Florida, Department of Transportation case, the Campbells purchased property along State Road 5 in June 2004. In 2006, the Florida DOT began maintenance on the State Road 5 right-of-way, including mowing the grass. In 2015, the Campbells began developing the property, but learned that the Florida DOT had encroached on a twenty foot strip owned by the Campbells along State Road 5. The Campbells filed suit on a theory of inverse condemnation against the Florida DOT.
In response, the Florida DOT filed a counterclaim to quiet title based on Florida Statute section 95.361, which specifies that if a government agency builds a road and maintains it continuously for four years, the entire width vests in the public.
Noting that a property owner must bring an inverse condemnation claim within four years of the physical invasion of the property, and recognizing that the trial court testimony showed the DOT maintained the disputed twenty feet since at least 2007, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of the DOT and against the Campbells.
Property owners should remember two things from this: don’t let somebody else maintain your property and then wait four years to file suit. ‘Cause if you don’t mow your grass, and someone else does, you might end up singing a sad song, too.