Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse: Do You Know Your Local Rules and Regulations?
Everybody – from the feds to the neighborhood HOA – has a say in how you run your business
It’s your fault, whether you like it or not. There are federal, state, city, and sometimes even neighborhood-specific laws and regulations you must follow if you are the owner of a lawn care of landscaping business.
The word “ignorance” is often misinterpreted. It generally means ‘lack of knowledge.’ So, to be ignorant about something hardly means you’re stupid, or you’ve purposely chosen to ignore or disrespect laws and regulations. It can simply mean you didn’t know about them, but you are still guilty of these infractions. The information is available, and it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re aware of all the rules and regulations your lawn care or landscaping business must follow. It’s easier at the federal level. Be prepared to do some digging, as you get more local.
At the federal level – your vehicles
Your lawn care and landscaping equipment – and your people – have to get to job sites. You may be legally obligated to follow regulations put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Not all states do, but currently, 37 of them require your vehicle to be registered with the FMSCA and have a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) identification number if you carry passengers or cargo interstate, or if you transfer certain types of hazardous materials intrastate.
The responsibility rests on your shoulders to know what’s required for your company to comply with FMCSA and USDOT federal regulations. Start with the FMSCA registration page to see if you’re doing business in a state or states that require a DOT number.
From there, you can learn more about how to comply with these federal regulations. To make it easier to understand what’s necessary, the FMCSA recently created an interactive tool that’s free for anyone to use. If you register with the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Planner website, you can save customized settings that allow you to keep on top of information and relevant forms that are going to be most important to you.
At the federal level – your safety
A lawn care and landscaping business presents opportunities to generate revenue from various types of activities – meaning that you will be subject to multiple areas of federal regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
For example, you might need to build a retaining wall. You’ll be subject to OSHA’s construction industry regulations and standards. If you’re using fertilizers or pesticides, you’re subject to OSHA’s general industry standards. Still, other regulations may apply if you’re using equipment to trim trees.
OSHA maintains a specific area for landscape and horticultural services. It’s a good place to start. You’ll find the list of federal safety standards that must be followed. They range from eye protection to precautions that must be taken when trimming near communication lines.
It’s important to know that occupational safety laws aren’t only at the federal level. Currently, more than 20 states have OSHA-approved plans. Your lawn care or landscaping business is required to follow these regulations as well, and OSHA notes that they might be different or even more stringent than federal mandates.
To make it easier to follow the regulations, OSHA has created an interactive tool that lets you select a state to see local information and links to relevant resources.
OSHA also has an alliance with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (previously known as the Professional Land care Network or PLANET). The association helps OSHA to develop appropriate safety regulations for the industry. The National Association of Landscape Professionals uses its membership to help communicate OSHA’s activities.
At the state level
Beyond federal regulations, there are mandated laws your business must follow at the state level as well. Keeping in mind that ignorance of the law is no excuse, it’s your responsibility to identify and follow these regulations.
The frustrating part, There’s no single or comprehensive source for this information. The information isn’t difficult to find, but you will have to take the initiative to uncover it.
At the municipal or neighborhood level
Staying on top of what cities, towns, or even neighborhoods require for lawn care and landscaping businesses requires that you go to the source. It may be necessary to visit the city or town’s administrative offices to get information, but it’s always a good idea to research the information online first.
Make sure that your online information is from an official source. Ignorance of the law also means you’re not able to say that somebody gave you the wrong information.
It also may be necessary to contact a neighborhood or homeowner’s association to determine if there are requirements in place at this level.
It’s your responsibility to stay on top of regulations
Proactive businesses prosper. Staying informed about potential changes to regulations that may impact your lawn care or landscaping business helps you make better decisions about everything from employees to equipment. Learn how battery-powered landscaping equipment can increase safety for your workers and cut down on operational costs.