Tree and Neighbor Laws

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 What Can I Do If a Neighbor's Tree Hangs Over My Yard?

People do not often associate trees with lawsuits. When people think of the trees in their backyard, they are more likely thinking about the beautiful scene their trees create, the shade they provide on a hot summer day, or how the leaves form a makeshift curtain to shield them from nosy neighbors. Nevertheless, people do sue each other over those same lovely trees.

Trees can be involved in automobile collisions and skiing accidents, but lawsuits regarding those injuries don’t focus on the tree itself. This article will familiarize you with legal issues where the tree itself is the subject of litigation.

What Happens if the Branches of Your Neighbor’s Tree Hang Over and Onto Your Property?

Generally, the laws regarding overhanging trees and branches stem from state and local legislation. The first thing you should do if a neighbor’s tree hangs over your yard is to review the laws on trees enacted in both your state and your local county. Next, search for the paperwork generated when you bought your house because that will be needed for the next step.

When you purchased your home, you most likely had to have an appraiser or inspector conduct a property survey. The title insurance company involved in your home purchase would have required that a legal description of the property’s boundaries be included in the home purchase contract.

A property survey shows the exact boundaries of your property. By figuring out where the tree stands – whether it’s on your property or your neighbor’s – you will know whether or not the offending branches fall within your property’s boundaries or are considered a part of your neighbor’s property.

A tree may cross the boundary between your house and your neighbor’s. In that case, you have the right to remove the part of the tree on your land. However, you cannot do this by trespassing on your neighbor’s property or going into their yard to cut it down. You may only trim the part of the tree that is considered to be on your property, and you must do this while staying in your yard.

If it is too difficult to tell whose property the tree falls on or if it sits directly on the boundary line, you may want to speak with your neighbor before taking further action. These disputes can often easily be cleared up by communicating openly and hospitably with your neighbor, especially if you already have a good relationship.

If there is a tree that falls on both of your properties, or if the tree is on your neighbor’s property, but the branches fall onto yours, and your neighbor refuses to pay to have the tree removed to help you chop it down, or to give consent to allow you to get rid of it, then you will need to seek legal recourse.

Regardless of how difficult your neighbor is or how dangerous a tree limb appears, do not intentionally destroy or harm your tree. Doing so can result in paying your neighbor fines for up to two or three times the replacement value of the tree (e.g., usually between $500 to $2,500).

What Can I Do if My Neighbors Complain About My Tree in Their Yard?

If a neighbor is complaining about a tree essentially trespassing onto their yard, you should talk to your neighbor about the problem and ask them what actions they think would help resolve the issue. For example, if your tree’s branches hang onto the neighbor’s property, ask the neighbor how much of the branch would have to be trimmed to satisfy them.

You may unknowingly violate local ordinances if the height or size of your tree is beyond what is legally permitted or if the tree is considered a danger. If it is, then your neighbor will have grounds to sue you to have the tree or its branches removed. This is true even if no damage has been done to your neighbor’s property. The mere violation of a local ordinance will allow them to file a lawsuit.

In some states, a neighbor may be able to sue you over a tree if any of the following conditions exist:

  • Your tree infringes on their property
  • The roots or branches of your tree have caused property damage to their property
  • The tree’s roots have crushed, cracked, or clogged their pipes
  • The tree is poisonous and is threatening the neighbor’s or the entire neighborhood’s health and safety
  • The tree interferes with your neighbor’s ability to use and enjoy their property. This is a nuisance tree. Examples include when branches from your tree rub against their roof or roots that push up their sidewalk, etc.)

If you and your neighbor have a dispute over one or more trees, you cannot resolve it through discussion and negotiation, and your best bet is to consult legal counsel for further advice.

Who Owns a Tree?

A tree belongs to the person whose property it is located on. So, if the tree trunk, branches, and roots sit entirely in a neighbor’s yard, the tree belongs to that neighbor.

When the tree is located on a property line, then the tree belongs to both property owners, and both neighbors are responsible for taking care of the tree. This type of tree is known as a “boundary tree.” To remove or take any other actions towards a boundary tree will require the consent of both property owners.

What About Dangerous Trees?

If your neighbor’s tree poses an actual threat or danger to you or your property and the neighbor refuses to have it removed, then a local city agency may be able to intervene and resolve the issue with the tree. If a tree is at risk of falling over, crashing into your house, and potentially harming the people there, it may be best to contact the city.

Some cities have even passed rules prohibiting homeowners from maintaining dangerous conditions on private property. If such an ordinance exists, the city can demand that the owner remove the dangerous tree, or they will be forced to pay a fine. In addition, a utility company may also trim a tree that threatens its equipment, such as a tree that is too close to power lines or interferes with working on neighborhood power lines.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with My Tree Problem?

If your neighbor refuses to remove or take care of a tree infringing on your property, you may need to take legal action against your neighbor to resolve the issue. A real estate lawyer can inform you of your rights and will be able to answer any questions you may have about tree and neighbor disputes.

If your lawyer determines you have a viable claim, they can help you take the proper steps to remove the tree. An experienced real estate lawyer can also assist you in filing the necessary paperwork to bring a lawsuit, providing representation in court, and recovering any damages.

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