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Neighbor Disputes: Trees

Just about everyone enjoys trees and other landscaping features, but those things can sometimes cause problems with neighbors. For instance, large trees that hang over a neighbor's fence and across the property line may pose a risk of injury or property damage. Trees that aren't trimmed properly can block a neighbor's scenic view, as well. The roots of trees from your neighbor's property might grow onto yours over time. Perhaps, those roots could interfere with the fertility of the soil on your property. 

Homeowners need to be aware of risks that can occur over neighborly disputes. When those disputes relate to trees, it can seem like you're dealing with a particularly difficult set of problems.

See FindLaw's Neighbors and Trees section for related articles.

The following are some things to keep in mind regarding trees and neighbor disputes:

  • Sometimes disputes arise between neighbors when trees belonging to one property owner fall on and damage or destroy adjacent property. In such cases, the tree owner is only responsible for damage if some failure to maintain the tree contributes to the damage.
  • If the damage was solely the result of a thunderstorm or act of God, the tree owner would not be responsible, as the damage could not have been foreseen.
  • If a tree limb appeared precarious and the owner failed to maintain the tree after warnings, the owner may well be responsible for resulting damage when a storm causes the limb to fall.
  • If the tree was well-maintained and a storm causes a tree limb to crash into a neighbor's roof, the tree owner is not responsible.
  • If a tree owner allows the tree to grow so that it uproots a fence, it would be considered an encroachment onto the adjacent property. In that instance, the tree owner would be required to remove the offending tree. Tree branches can sometimes constitute an encroachment if they cause severe enough a disturbance of where they are overhanging.
  • A boundary tree is one planted on the boundary line itself and should not be removed without mutual agreement. It's important to make sure that an agreement like this is in place before you remove a tree on your neighbor's side of the property line.
  • Leaves, bean pods, or acorns that fall off and end up on adjacent property are considered a natural occurrence and are the responsibility of the landowner on whose property they ultimately come to rest.
  • Property owners in every state have the right to cut off branches and roots that stray into their property. In most cases, this is the only help that is provided by the law, even when damage from a tree is substantial.
  • You may be within your rights to self-help and trim branches coming from your neighbor's yard. It's possible you may be able to engage in the removal of trees in your neighbor's yard. You might be able to remove the tree roots that have grown onto your property. It's likely you'd be within your rights to engage in tree trimming. If any parts of the tree grow onto your private property, you may be able to remove those parts.
  • A property owner who finds a neighbor's tree encroaching must first warn or give notice to the tree owner prior to commencing work, giving the tree owner the chance to correct the problem. If the tree owner does nothing, the tree can still be trimmed. Encroaching branches can be a terrible nuisance. If a neighbor's trees are growing onto your own property, you could likely remove them and be protected in doing so.
  • As a general rule, a property owner who trims an encroaching tree belonging to a neighbor can prune only up to the boundary line and must obtain permission to enter the tree owner's property, unless the limbs threaten to cause imminent and grave harm. It's important to know when and how you may enter the property belonging to the owner of the tree. A property owner cannot cut the entire tree down, destroy the structural integrity, or ruin the cosmetic symmetry and appeal of a tree by improper trimming.
  • When a neighbor's trees fall onto your property and your neighbor has violated an ordinance by doing so, your neighbor is liable for any damage that may result and for the cost of tree removal. Overhanging branches that interfere with the visibility of traffic signs might cause a violation of ordinances. This could depend on local laws and you should verify the laws of your state.
  • If the tree qualifies as a dangerous tree and the owner fails to deal with the danger, it's possible the owner of the tree could be held liable for civil damages resulting from a personal injury. If a tree falls from your neighbor's yard and injures you, you could sue your neighbor for personal injury-related reasons. If a jury determines that the neighbor did not take reasonable care in preventing injury to you, you could receive sizeable damages.

Dispute With a Neighbor Over Trees? Get Help From an Attorney

Disputes with neighbors can be quite frustrating, especially since you don't really have a choice in who lives next to you. If a neighbor's tree is causing trouble or posing a safety risk for you or your family, there are legal options available. Consider speaking with a real estate attorney if you have a dispute with a neighbor that you're unable to resolve on your own. They will be familiar with addressing frequently asked questions about neighbor disputes. 

It's important to get the legal advice you need by establishing an attorney-client relationship, as tree disputes can be difficult. It can be a particularly difficult area of real estate law, so it's important to contact a lawyer for help. Before taking legal action you should be aware of what local ordinances may work in your favor. Know your legal rights.

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