Problems with a Neighbor’s Trees
You look out your window at your neighbor’s tree. It is leaning over your property and you’re afraid it will fall and cause damage or, even worse, hurt someone. Maybe it’s a line of trees that keep dropping leaves and branches on your property that drive you crazy. Or maybe it’s tree roots undermining your driveway or your patio. What can you do?
Getting angry and making threats will not help, but here are steps you can take to protect yourself and your property and compel your neighbor to take action. We offer some general information though you will need to check your local laws to see if there are any specific actions or requirements imposed on property owners. When in doubt, you can consult a local attorney.
Overview of How the Law Treats Trees
Most state laws see trees as objects of nature and no person or property owner has legal responsibility for a tree. This condition changes if a property owner has notice that a tree poses a threat to safety or property and fails to act. If a person has notice about a hazard and fails to remedy the problem, he can be held liable for damage or injury caused by that tree. (If you want to read more about putting your neighbor on notice, click here.)
It may be comforting to know that you may be able to hold your neighbor liable for failing to act, but what can you do to prevent the tree in question from causing damage?
Take Action Yourself to Remove a Threat or Hazard Posed by Your Neighbor’s Tree
You can take action yourself. In most states, you have the right to trim or remove any part of a tree or bush that extends over your property line. There are some caveats:
- You are responsible for all costs associated with the action you take. If you hire someone to do the work, you cannot send the bill to your neighbor. You are responsible for paying that bill.
- You cannot enter your neighbor’s property to do this work unless given permission by your neighbor.
- You are responsible for any debris. We once heard from a man who cut down some branches and then threw the cuttings onto his neighbor’s property. The neighbor called the police. If you cut down a branch, you are responsible for getting rid of it.
- You cannot kill the tree. If your action kills the tree, your neighbor may have an action against you to recover for the cost of the tree. You need not worry about how the tree looks when you are done, only that you do not kill it.
Actions You Can Take to Get Your Neighbor to Remove a Hazard Caused by a Tree
If you do not want to or cannot trim a tree hanging over your property, you may be able to compel your neighbor to take action. Gather information and try to work with your neighbor to resolve the issue. Here are some specific actions you may want to take:
- Talk to Your Neighbor: Discuss the issue with your neighbor. Point out the problem. Let your neighbor see the hazard created by the tree. See if you and your neighbor can jointly solve the problem. Maybe you can offer to contribute money towards a solution.
- Gather Information: Take photographs of the tree. Have a certified arborist examine the tree and prepare a report.
- Prepare a Letter for Your Neighbor: Put the issue in writing. You can draft a letter to your neighbor that covers the following (I have attached a sample letter you can use: trees-sample-letter-for-neighbor ):
- Identifies the tree. Include a description and photographs.
- Describes the hazard and the remedy. Include the arborist’s report.
- Ask your neighbor to notify his or her homeowner’s insurance company.
- Tell your neighbor that if he fails to act, he will bear liability for any damages caused by the tree.
- Deliver the Letter with Evidence that your Neighbor Received It: Some people prefer to send the letter via certified mail. You can do that if you wish, but many people nowadays simply refuse to accept a certified letter. You want to make sure you have evidence that you delivered the letter. Here are some options:
- You can mail a copy and hand-deliver a copy.
- If you have your neighbor’s email address, send a copy via email.
- Send it via FedEx or UPS with a signature required. People are more likely to sign for these packages.
This multi-step process allows for the most amicable resolution and increases the pressure only as necessary. By the time most people receive the letter, they will take action. If the neighbor refuses to take action and the tree does cause damage, you will be able to hold them liable for the damage.
What If My Neighbor Refuses to Remedy the Situation?
It will be unfortunate if your neighbor fails to take the necessary action to remove the hazard. If your neighbor refuses to act, then your only remaining recourse is to go to court and seek a court order requiring your neighbor to act.
You can handle this matter yourself or hire an attorney to represent you. If you need help finding an attorney, you might contact your county bar association or consult with an online legal directory such as Avvo.com.)
In court, you need to demonstrate the following:
- That the tree is on your neighbor’s property
- That the tree poses a threat
- The nature and extent of that threat
- The recommendation of the certified arborist
- Your efforts to work with your neighbor to resolve the situation
The court will consider the evidence about the threat posed and decide if it will require your neighbor to act.
We hope this information helps. Remember: we are not a law firm and we do not offer legal advice. We offer general information for educational purposes. If you want more information about these issues, you may want to retain an attorney. You can find an attorney by contacting your local bar association or using an online resource such as Avvo.com.