Disputes between neighbors about the use of land can get ugly. In some instances, neighbors take to self-help and damage or destroy a tree on their neighbors property. When this happens, the tree owner may be entitled to recover financially from the actions of their neighbor.

What is a Boundary Line Tree?

A boundary line tree is a tree that marks the line between two pieces of property. Boundary line trees are used instead of a fence marking the divide between land. It’s commonly used when a property owner is concerned about the appearance of the land.

The side of the line the tree rests on determines who owns the tree. For example, say a tree marks the divide between property A and property B. If the tree is on property A, then the tree is owned by the person who also owns property A.

What is a Boundary Line Dispute?

A boundary line dispute is between two or more property owners about the divide between their properties. Sometimes the dispute is where the actual property divide is. More common, however, is one party seeking 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 view of scenery.

Disputes between landowners can get emotional. Entering land without permission is considered trespassing. Further, altering the property of a neighbor, 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 have come onto their side of the property line but should do so with caution. This could set off a long and expensive legal hassle, and may still be unlawful if the branches were in fact on the neighbor’s property still. If you have doubts about trimming or felling a tree, then speak with an attorney first.

How Can I Be Compensated If My Boundary Line Tree has been Damaged?

If a neighbor (or anyone else for that matter) damages or destroys the boundary line tree of a property owner, then the property owner may be entitled to legal recourse. Before or during a lawsuit, parties are always able to settle outside of the court. Usually, this means one party agrees to pay the other in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.

If the parties can’t agree then the case will go to trial. Trial can be a long and expensive ordeal, especially if the value of the tree is relatively low. If the property owner wins, then a court will determine an appropriate money award and/or other remedies. There are a variety of methods for a court to award money for damages, depending on which state the court sits in.

One way money damages are determined is by subtracting the property value before the tree was cut down and after the tree was cut down. This gives a rough estimate as to the value of the boundary line tree.

The court could also order a repair or restoration of the tree if feasible. In some cases, like if the tree was relatively young, that is possible. In others, if the tree was extremely old, then a court will instead opt for the decrease in property value method.

Also, a court can award money for the emotions harm associated with cutting the tree down. The court may require proof of emotional harm (seeking medical or psychiatric help). A court might also award ‘punitive’ damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for particularly bad 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 simple precaution. However, if the relationship between neighbors is especially strained, then it may be necessary to involve the court.

A court can issue an injunction, preventing a party from taking a certain action. In the context of a property dispute, this could be the form of an order prohibiting damaging or cutting down a neighbor’s tree.

An injunction can be issued even if something has already happened to the tree. Meaning, if a neighbor damaged, but didn’t destroy a tree, then a court could issue an injunction preventing further harm while the property owner seeks money for the damaged 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.