Your Neighbors' Right to Farm

Although it may sound idyllic to move to the countryside if you've been living in noisy, dirty cities all of your life, it pays to know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Many urbanites are surprised when their idyllic notions of the countryside are replaced with real pesticide clouds, the smell of manure and noisy farm machinery -- and they are even more surprised when they find out there's very little they can do about it.

The Right to Farm

All states in the United States grant their farmers a legal right to farm. This right lets them farm without fear of being sued for everyday farm activities. This means that you often cannot sue a farm because it creates an unpleasant smell, or because its tractors kick up dust that blows onto your property. To better understand the right to farm, it helps to understand the concept of "nuisance" laws.

The Right to Farm and Nuisance Laws

Nuisance laws are one of the oldest forms of common law, and they enable you to sue another party who is interfering with your right to enjoy your property, typically throughsmells, sounds, pollution, or other hazards that extend beyond the other party's property boundaries.

As agriculture grew in the 1980s to "mega" farms, more and more people brought lawsuits against these large farms for creating nuisances. The loud sound of heavy machinery, the pungent smell of livestock and the use of pesticides were the most common cause for lawsuits. Many farms were shut down by court order as a result of these lawsuits, and in response a "right to farm" was created.

The right to farm, and what it allows, varies greatly from state to state, so definitely check into the laws of the state you are planning on moving to. Be aware that many states treat existing residents different than newcomers. Existing residents often have many more rights, since they've been there for a long time, whereas new arrivals are considered to have "moved to the nuisance" and are afforded considerably less protection.

Ask Around Before You Buy

If you are planning on moving to an area that has a significant agricultural industry, it pays to really investigate the area before moving. Realize, though, that some farming practices are seasonal, so even a physical inspection may not reveal any potential problems if you go at the wrong time. Ask a potential real estate agent, check with any local farming groups, and find out from neighbors whether there have been any problems before, and if there are any seasonal farming practices you should be aware of.

If You Are Having Trouble with a Farm

There are three potential sources of help if you are experiencing a problem with a neighboring farm. First is the Department of Agriculture (www.usda.gov), which issues regulations for farms and farming practices. The second source to investigate is your state Commissioner of Agriculture, and any county farm agents your area may have. The final source to investigate is your state Department of Agriculture or Health Department. These offices typically receive complaints, and can offer guidance regarding whether the farming practice causing you trouble is legal or not.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney to help you address difficulties with your neighbors.

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