Tree Growing on a House

Neighbor Problems

It’s a fairly common neighborly dispute that is often a source of legal confusion: trees.

Trees can be the source of significant damage and nuisance to property, so it is important for all affected parties to know their legal rights. Anyone who has been arrested for trespassing or personal property damage because of something they might have done to a neighbor’s tree should consider bail bonds as a way to secure release, as well as consulting with a professional attorney about their case.

Who Owns What?

The first question that often comes up in a neighborly dispute over a tree is that of ownership. There are some pretty standard rules for determining this. Even if some branches hang over onto an adjacent property, the tree belongs to the owner of the property where the trunk is fully located. If the tree is on the property line, it is legally considered the property of both homeowners. Removal of such a tree is unlawful unless all owners consent. As with most legal matters, it is best to get consent in writing.

What Rights Does One Have Over A Neighbor’s Tree?

If the trunk of the tree is on a neighbor’s property, it belongs to them, so taking any action unless in very limited circumstances is considered infringing and damaging someone else’s property. One of those limited circumstances is any branches that might hang over onto the adjacent property. Homeowners are free to trim those as they wish, but only up to the property line. Do not go onto a neighbor’s property to alter or destroy the tree. Anyone doing so will be liable for damages and trespassing charges. It is also not legal to eat fruit produced by a neighbor’s tree without permission, even if it is on branches that cross the property line.

What Damages Might A Neighbor Be Responsible For, And Vice Versa?

The owner of the tree is usually not liable for any damage unless it can be proven the damage resulted from negligence of maintaining the tree itself. Trees or branches that fall because of storms or other “act of God” phenomenon are not the responsibility of the owner. Owners are also not liable for leaves, seed pods or other natural productions of the tree that might end up on a neighbor’s property, even if they cause damage such as clogging gutters. If a fence is damaged because a tree’s roots grew into it, that is considered an encroachment onto the other property and the owner of the tree would likely be required to remove it.

What Should Someone Do If They Think A Neighbor’s Tree Is Going To Fall?

There are a couple of ways homeowners can pursue a conflict against a neighbor they believe has a tree that poses a threat to their property. The concerned homeowner may be able to file and win a nuisance claim. Local municipalities might also be able to do something about the problem if the neighbor refuses to. Most municipalities have local ordinances against allowing dangerous conditions to exist on private property, and they might come and remove the offending tree or branch. It’s also not uncommon for cities to have ordinances relating to tree branches hanging too low over the sidewalk. Another option is to contact utility companies. Utility companies can and will often remove trees that pose a danger to their equipment. Oftentimes, a simple call can solve the problem.

What If The Neighbors Live In An HOA?

For residents of a homeowners association, commonly abbreviated to HOA, there is another body involved in any disputes between neighbors over trees. HOAs have what is commonly called Indentures, which are a set of legal documents that govern the HOA. Typically, HOA Indentures are superseded by city, state and federal law, but any HOA involved in a tree dispute may choose to press their case in court. Trees that are on common ground are property of the HOA and also cannot be interfered with without the HOA’s permission.

Disputes involving trees between neighbors are not uncommon, and while many incidents are taken care of privately, occasionally they do go to court. Anyone with questions regarding disputes with their neighbors over trees should contact a professional attorney for legal advice.

Read More: Neighbor Disputes

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