If your neighbor or someone else cuts down, extracts, or hurts a tree on your property without your consent, that individual is required to reimburse you (the tree owner) for your loss. If necessary, you can sue to enforce your rights. Here’s the scoop on what you must establish to recover for a damaged or destroyed tree and how much money you can recover.
Conflicts between neighbors about the use of land can get unsightly. In some instances, neighbors take to self-help and damage or destroy a tree on their neighbors’ property. When this transpires, the tree owner may be permitted to recover financially from the actions of their neighbor.
What Is a Boundary Line Tree?
A boundary line tree is a tree that observes the line between two slices of property. Boundary line trees are used instead of fences denoting the divide between land. It’s typically used when a property owner is concerned about the appearance of the land.
The line the tree rests on specifies who owns the tree. For example, a tree marks the divide between property A and property B. If the tree is on property A, the tree is owned by the person who also owns property A.
What Is a Boundary Line Conflict?
A boundary line dispute is between two or more property owners about the divide between their properties. Occasionally, the disagreement is about where the actual property divide is. More common, however, is one party aiming to use their land on the boundary in a way that their neighbor objects with. This could be building a structure, like a shed, or cutting down a tree blocking the scenery view.
Disputes between landowners can get passionate. Entering land without permission is considered trespassing. Further, altering a neighbor’s property, like cutting down a boundary line tree, without permission can result in a lawsuit for the value of the altered property.
A property owner might have the right to trim branches that come onto their side of the property line but should do so cautiously. This could set off a lengthy and costly legal hassle and may still be illegal if the branches were, in fact, on the neighbor’s property still. If you have doubts about trimming or felling a tree, speak with an attorney first.
What Counts as “Damage” to Your Tree?
To run afoul of the law, your neighbor doesn’t have to merely chop down your tree. It’s illegal to damage the health of your tree. For instance, your neighbor has the legal freedom to trim branches of your tree if they hang over the property line. But if the trimming seriously damages your tree, your neighbor will be answerable to you for the damage done. Likewise, if your neighbor uses a chemical in their yard to kill unwanted roots, and the chemical seeps onto your property and kills one of your trees, your neighbor can be responsible.
What Do You Have to Prove to Recover Damages from a Neighbor for Destroying or Damaging Your Tree?
In general, you must meet two requirements to have a legal right to compensation for a damaged tree.
Your property must be damaged. For example, if a neighbor trims the part of your tree that hangs over the property line, making that part of the tree look horrible but not damaging it in any way, you have no right to recovery. That’s because your property (the portion of the tree on your side) is not damaged.
The tree in question must not create an immediate hazard to others. Unstable trees that endanger a neighboring property are not under the same legal protection as healthy trees. For example, in some circumstances, if a dead tree is about to fall, a neighbor can even enter an owner’s property to prevent any damage.
Can a Tree Owner Recover for Actual Losses Caused by Tree Damage?
If someone harms or kills your tree, you can recover the amount of your actual loss due to the injury or destruction of the tree. This recovery is available even if an honest error caused the damage. A final dollar figure for actual loss might include:
- The cost of replacing the tree: This would also include removing debris and cleanup.
- Diminished property value: If replacing the tree is unattainable, you can recover for the decrease in your property value due to the lost tree.
- Out-of-pocket costs: In most states, you can recover for money reasonably spent trying to save an injured tree or remove a dead one.
- Aesthetic loss and mental anguish: A few courts have awarded damages for aesthetic loss and mental anguish to tree owners in tree damage cases.
How Can I Be Compensated If My Boundary Line Tree Has Been Damaged?
If a neighbor (or anyone else for that matter) damages or kills the boundary line tree of a property owner, then the property owner may be entitled to legal recourse. Before or during a lawsuit, parties can always settle outside of the court. Usually, this means one party agrees to pay the other to drop the case.
If the parties can’t agree, the case will go to trial. A trial can be a lengthy and costly ordeal, mainly if the value of the tree is fairly low. If the property owner wins, a court will select a proper money award or other remedies. There are various ways for a court to award money for damages, depending on which state the court sits in.
One way money damages are chosen is by subtracting the property value before the tree was cut down and after the tree was cut down. This gives a rough estimate of the value of the boundary line tree.
The court could also order a repair or restoration of the tree if possible. In some cases, that is feasible if the tree is relatively young. In others, if the tree was ancient, then a court would instead opt for reducing property value.
Also, a court can award money for the emotional damage associated with cutting the tree down. The court may require evidence of emotional harm (seeking medical or psychiatric help). A court might also award ‘punitive’ damages meant to penalize the defendant for appalling conduct.
Do I Need to Wait for My Neighbor to Cut Down My Tree Before I Act?
Generally, you can take steps to protect your property within reason. Putting up a fence is the most common and straightforward precaution. However, if the relationship between neighbors is incredibly strained, it may be necessary to involve the court.
A court can issue an injunction, preventing a party from taking a particular action. In the context of a property controversy, this could be the form of an order prohibiting damaging or cutting down a neighbor’s tree.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Resolve My Boundary Line Tree Dispute?
A skilled attorney is an invaluable resource for resolving a boundary line tree dispute. They can help negotiate with neighbors, give detailed advice about available options, and represent clients before courts. Contacting a real estate attorney might be the best option to resolve a boundary line tree dispute.