Autumn foliage and leaf blowers
Who’s to blame if the postie slips over? And when on earth is your neighbour going to give it a rest with all that leaf blowing?
Autumn leaves aren’t just an annoyance in your own garden; they can often lead to unpleasant disputes between neighbours and pose a real accident risk.
With our tips and a modicum of common sense, you can prevent things from escalating.
Leaf blowers: what you need to know
When it comes to getting rid of autumn leaves, the trusty old rake tends to get overlooked. Homeowners are increasingly opting for motorised leaf blowers to sort out their gardens instead. Leaves falling from trees in your neighbour’s garden and blocking your guttering is pretty irritating but residents don’t really have any legal recourse against leaves that have fallen from adjoining properties. Falling leaves is an entirely normal part of autumn, so it’s not classed as a nuisance in law. In other words, there’s nothing for it but to remove the carpet of late-summer foliage yourself. If you don’t have a large area to sweep, then it’s best just to use a rake for this. In extreme cases, people have ended up in court for using their leaf blowers, costing them a lot of time and money, not to mention their sanity.
Do leaves need to be cleared off pavements?
If leaves are left lying on tarmac and it starts to rain, it will become a slippery surface and an accident hazard. Removing leaves falls under the property owner’s maintenance and upkeep obligations. They have to remove both leaves and snow from the footpath in front of their property. If they don’t remove the leaves and someone has an accident, the property owner is liable as a result. Even if the owner hires a janitor to clear the pathway, this doesn’t exempt them from their responsibility towards the victim of an accident. If the janitor does not carry out the job assigned to them, the owner may have a case against them in turn.
Periods when operating noisy machinery is not permitted
Of course, a leaf blower makes a whole lot more din than a rake, but if you have a large property, then using one makes sense nonetheless. Essentially, there’s no ban on the private use of leaf blowers, but you should still limit how much you operate them out of consideration for your neighbours. The Swiss Machine Noise Ordinance stipulates mandatory labelling for leaf blowers, but there’s no specific decibel limit. Opinions differ as to what noise level is reasonable. Local councils, however, have their own statutory quiet periods, which are set out in the municipal police regulations. For example, the municipal council of Spiez on Lake Thun stipulates that no noise may be made in residential areas between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am and during the midday break between 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm. As such, the outdoor operation of construction machinery and noisy equipment like lawnmowers, leaf blowers, choppers and so on is prohibited on working days before 7:00 am and after 8:00 pm, at lunchtime and on Sundays and public holidays. Things are a little different in Zurich, where all noise-emitting domestic chores in and around the home using mechanical devices are prohibited between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm and from 7:00 pm to 8:00 am. Essentially, following most of the regulations in place in villages, towns and cities just means being sensible and keeping noise to the minimum.
Being considerate can help prevent disputes
Motor-operated leaf blowers can reach a noise level of up to 120 dB, so they can constitute real noise pollution. However, as the Swiss Noise Abatement Ordinance is a matter for individual municipalities to implement and there are no set limits, when to use a leaf blower is somewhat a matter of personal discretion, with the exception of the statutory quiet periods. You can do yourself and your neighbours a big favour by switching to electrical machines, as otherwise, the noise can damage your hearing in the long run. It can also kill off small animals, so it’s actively detrimental to biodiversity and species diversity.
When buying a motor-operated machine, make sure to check the noise label. Any machines louder than 70 dB represent a noise nuisance when operated on their maximum setting. If you have a leaf blower, try to use it as infrequently as possible and observe the statutory quiet periods. Leaves are particularly easy to blow away if they’re still damp from the morning dew, so you can keep usage to a minimum while also protecting the environment and your hearing.