Question: There is a tree that stands along the property line, but it clearly belongs to my neighbor. A storm damaged the tree and while part of the tree thrived, much of it was clearly dead and decaying. The tree threatens my property. I am afraid that the tree will fall on my house or worse, fall on someone and kill them. I spoke to my neighbor about the tree and he rejected my request that he remove the tree. What can I do?
First, you need to determine that your neighbor owns the tree. You say the tree is on the property line. If the entire trunk is on your neighbor’s property, then your neighbor owns the tree. If the trunk straddles the property line, then you share ownership. If your neighbor owns the tree, then only he can take action with the tree. If it is a boundary tree – meaning you both share it – you can take action but only with his permission.
Assuming the tree belongs to your neighbor, you should fully assess the situation. If the tree threatens your property, contact a certified arborist and have him examine the tree and prepare a report with recommended action. Assuming that the arborist recommends either trimming part of the tree or removing the tree altogether, then you may want to take the following steps:
- Take pictures
- Notify your insurance company that the tree threatens your property.
- Prepare a letter for your neighbor. The letter should identify the tree and the danger it poses. You should ask your neighbor to take the recommended action. Urge him to contact his insurance company. Tell him that if he fails to do so, he can be held liable for any damage caused by the tree. Attach copies of the photographs and the arborist’s report. You can download a sample letter here: trees-sample-letter-for-neighbor.
- Speak to your neighbor and hand him the letter and attachments.
- If he refuses to speak, then mail the letter both regular mail and certified mail.
The written letter and attachment puts your neighbor on notice that the tree poses a danger. If he notifies his insurance company, they may require him to remove the tree (they may even pay for that removal). If he fails to act, you will have evidence that will enable you to hold him liable for the damage.
If your neighbor does not remove the tree, and you want to force him to act, you will need to seek a court order. (Some municipalities have dispute resolution centers and you could bring the matter there.) You can handle this yourself or retain an attorney. If you need help finding an attorney, you can contact your local bar association or an online resource such as Avvo.com.