Trees and Neighbors – Issues and Responsibilities
By John Stonaker, Feb 22 2019 04:00PM
A variety of factors are involved with trees and adjoining properties. These include where the tree trunk is growing, where the branches and roots are growing, tree debris and fruit, hazards and nuisances, and tree damage and who pays.
Ownership of a tree is determined by where the trunk grows. If the tree trunk is entirely on one property, that homeowner owns the tree and is responsible for it. If the tree trunk straddles the property line, both neighbors jointly own the tree and one cannot remove the tree without the permission of the other.
Knowing your rights and responsibilities regarding a neighbor’s tree or their rights and responsibilities when it comes to your tree depends on clearly knowing your local and state ordinances and exactly where your property line is. You must also consider the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with your neighbors. Discussing the issue over a barbeque or some other pleasant situation might help you both come to an amicable agreement on the care of the tree. Below are some specific situations you may encounter:
Branches that overhang the property line
When your tree’s branches overhang the property line, your neighbor has the right to prune up to your property line (again, check your local laws). You have the same right if the tree belongs to your neighbor. However, if pruning causes serious harm to the tree or kills it, you could be liable for up to three times the value of the tree, which can be quite significant. Therefore, if a large portion of the tree’s branches overhang the property line, or if the tree is owned jointly, it’s very important that pruning be done by a professional who knows how to keep the tree healthy.
Leaves and fruit
If a neighbor’s tree drops leaves and nuts on your property, you are responsible for cleaning them up. This is considered a product of nature. On the other hand, you may not pick fruit from a neighbor’s fruit tree from branches that overhang your property. However, check your local ordinance regarding fruit that falls on your property.
Nuisance or hazard
If your neighbor feels that your tree causes a significant limitation of the use of his property, your neighbor may file a nuisance claim against you. If you have a tree that is clearly sick or damaged, or if the tree blocks the view of traffic, the neighbor could report it as a hazardous tree and force you to have it removed. Keeping your trees properly pruned and regularly maintained by a professional can avoid lawsuits.
Falling tree or limb
Generally, if a tree or limb falls during a severe storm, the property it falls on is responsible, not the owner of the tree. So if your tree falls on your house, your homeowner’s insurance would pay. If your tree falls on your neighbor’s house, their homeowner’s insurance would pay. These are considered acts of nature. However, if your tree was clearly sick or dead and it caused damage to your neighbor’s property, your neighbor could file a claim your insurance for coverage.
If the tree or limb falls on your vehicle, this would be covered by the vehicle’s comprehensive coverage. If a car does not have comprehensive coverage, however, you would not receive compensation for the damage to your car.
If your tree or a limb falls on the neighbor’s property because you were doing your own pruning or tree-felling and you are not yourself trained in this work, you would be liable for the damage.
Property work that damages or kills a tree
If you’re digging up your property and damage your neighbor’s tree’s roots, or if you put down chemicals that damage your neighbor’s tree, you can be sued for the loss of the tree.
Most of these scenarios can be avoided with regular pruning and tree maintenance. Reach out to us or a professional tree specialist near you to help maintain both the health of your trees and a positive relationship with your neighbors.