What to know about trees and neighbor disputes
When you own property, you're responsible for the trees and other plants that grow on it. If you don't take care of your trees or if you don't respect the boundaries of your property line, you could ignite conflict with your neighbors. Similarly, if nearby homeowners don't respect your rights, you could find yourself pursuing legal action.
How should homeowners care for their trees?Since property laws related to trees varies depending on where you live, it's best to consult your local laws and ordinances so you understand your responsibilities as a home (and tree) owner. Generally speaking, you should protect your rights and those of your neighbors by following these best practices:
- Treat any diseased trees on your property so they don't become dangerous to your property or a neighbor's.
- Have your trees professionally trimmed every year or so to promote its health.
- Inspect your trees regularly for signs of disease or damage.
- Remove dead trees to eliminate dangers to people or property.
All homeowners have a duty of care to protect people and property from damage. This means that you are legally responsible for avoiding preventable damage to people or property. If you fail in your duty of care, a court could find you negligent and hold you liable for damages.
Can a neighbor trim my trees?Your neighbors can't trim your trees unless they stick to branches that overhang the property line. By law, you can trim the branches of any tree that crosses over that line, but your neighbor can't touch the branches on your side, just as you can't touch theirs.
Tree law also allows you to remove roots that grow on your side of the property line or to trim back vines and other plants. Just make sure you know where the property line falls so you don't accidentally overstep your boundaries. However, most lawyers recommend that homeowners try to talk to their neighbors first. Try to find a solution that works for you both so you don't create discord in the neighborhood.
What happens if a neighbor damages my tree?Trees are considered property under the law, which means that if a neighbor damages your tree, they would be legally responsible. For instance, as mentioned above, your neighbor can remove roots that grow on their side of the property line. However, if their actions kill your tree, a court would likely find them liable for the replacement cost of the tree.
In most cases, these disputes arise over unintentional damage. Maybe your neighbors are installing a new fence and accidentally sever your tree's roots with a post-hole digger. If you suspect that someone has intentionally poisoned or damaged your trees, you might find it difficult to prove.
What happens if a neighbor's tree falls and damages your property?Falling trees can cause property damage and personal injury. However, a fallen tree often goes under the category of "acts of God," which means that the homeowner didn't cause the problem, and therefore isn't liable. For example, if a hurricane's winds force a tree to fall down, the event is considered an act of God. However, if your neighbor violated their duty of care, you could have a claim. Maybe you warned your neighbor that the tree was diseased, but they never removed it. In this case, the court might find that your neighbor was negligent and award you damages.
What if a tree is on the property line?It's possible for you and your neighbor to share a tree on the property line. When this happens, you become jointly responsible for tree maintenance and care. If the tree causes damage that traces back to your negligence, you might have to split the cost to repair the damage.
Can my neighbor's tree block my view?In most cases, you can't force your neighbor to remove a tree just because it blocks your view. The only exception is on properties designated as view lots. This is rare, however, and is generally reserved for expensive homes in specific neighborhoods.
What if we can't resolve the issue?If you're in a conflict with your neighbor over a tree, attempt to discuss the problem rationally. If possible, offer a compromise that might keep you both happy. If that doesn't work, consider seeking a mediator to help you resolve the dispute amicably.
When your neighbor refuses to work with you, however, you might need to consult a property law attorney. A lawyer can tell you whether or not you have a legal claim and advise you on possible remedies, such as taking your neighbor to court.