Conflicts Involving Trees and Neighbors
If my neighbor's tree branches hang over my yard, can I trim them?
Yes. By law, you have the right to trim branches and limbs that extend past the property line. However, the law only allows tree trimming and tree cutting up to the property line. You may not go onto the neighbor's property or destroy the tree. If you do harm the tree, you could be found liable for up to three times the value of the tree. Most trees have a replacement value of between $500 and $2500. Some, that are considered ornamental or landmark trees, can have an astonishing value of between $20,000 and $60,000. So use extreme caution when tree trimming!
If my neighbor owns a fruit tree, and the branches hang over my property, can I eat the fruit?
No. The fruit of the tree belongs to the owner of the tree, so don't pick any of the fruit. Courts are divided on who can have fallen fruit, however, so check your local laws to see if you can eat any fruit that falls off the tree.
If my neighbor's leaves keep blowing into my yard, do I have a good nuisance claim?
No. Leaves are considered a natural product. Even if the leaves cause damage, like clogging your gutters or pipes, you have no legal claims against the owner of the tree. Additionally, you are responsible for cleaning up any natural products that fall into your yard.
If, however, the tree branches that are shedding the leaves are hanging over your yard, or the tree trunk is encroaching on your property, then you have a right to trim those branches up to the property line.
You could also consider building a fence. Fencing that is built on your side of the property line may help those leaves from blowing over into your yard.
Most of a large tree hangs over my yard, but the trunk is in the neighbor's yard. Who owns the tree?
The neighbor owns the tree. So long as the tree trunk is wholly in the neighbor's yard, it belongs to the neighbor.
When the tree trunk is divided by the property lines of two or more people, it is referred to as a "boundary tree". In the case of a "boundary tree", all of the property owners own the tree and share responsibility for it. Tree removal without the consent of all the property owners is unlawful.
My neighbor dug up his yard, and in the process killed a tree that's just on my side of the property line. Am I entitled to compensation for the tree?
Yes. In this situation, the tree owner has the right to sue for damages . Anyone who engages in tree removal, tree cutting, or injury to the tree without the owner's permission is liable for compensating the tree owner. In many cases, the tree-owner has been compensated by up to three times the value of the tree. If you want to avoid court proceedings, however, simply talking to the neighbor about the damaged tree is usually effective.
A storm knocked down my neighbor's tree limb onto my property, damaging my house, car, and yard furniture. Is he responsible for the damages?
It depends. The court will probably apply a reasonable care standard. If your neighbor took reasonable care to maintain the tree branch, and the tree branch did not seem to a reasonable person to be threatening to fall, then probably not. If a reasonable person could not have avoided this from happening in any way, then it will be deemed an Act of God, and the neighbor will not be liable.
If, after applying this reasonable care standard, however, the court finds that a reasonable person would have or should have known that the tree branch posed a danger of falling, or that the neighbor never did reasonable inspections to maintain the tree branch, then the neighbor could be found liable of negligence, and therefore responsible for damages to your property.
My neighbor's tree looks like it's going to fall on my house. What should I do?
Landowners are responsible for maintaining the trees on their property. Legally, they have two duties: make reasonable inspections and take care to ensure the tree is safe. Therefore, if a reasonable inspection shows that the tree could be dangerous, your neighbor is responsible for the tree removal. If your neighbor does not remove the dangerous tree, and the tree does in fact cause damage, your neighbor can be held liable.
If you have spoken to your neighbor about the tree issue, and he has not done anything about it you do have laws that protect you. The tree may constitute a nuisance, by interfering with your use and enjoyment of your own property. You could file a nuisance claim, and if the court finds that the true is a nuisance, the court may order the tree removed.
Hopefully, you will not have to go that far. Most cities have ordinances prohibiting property owners from keeping dangerous conditions on their property. If you call your municipality, they may remove the tree themselves or order your neighbor to do it.
Utility companies may also have an interest in the tree's removal if the tree's condition threatens any of its equipment. A simple call to a utility company may prompt them to remove the tree themselves.
The spreading of tree roots on my land damaged my neighbor's septic tank. Do I have to compensate my neighbors?
It depends. You will need to check with your specific state laws, as each state is different. In most states, the bothered neighbor can engage in the tree trimming or root cutting herself, and does not have a claim against the tree owner. Other states provide that neighbors may sue if the following conditions are met:
- Regardless of if there is property damage, a landowner may sue her neighbor to make that neighbor trim the branches that encroach the landowner's property.
- Serious harm caused by encroaching tree limbs or tree roots may give rise to a lawsuit. "Serious harm" usually requires structural damage, such as damaged roofs or walls, crushed pipes, cracked foundations, and cracked or clogged sewers.
- If an encroaching tree was planted, not wild, the neighbor may sue.
- A neighbor may only sue if the tree is noxious. "Noxious" means that the tree must be inherently dangerous or poisonous, AND the tree must cause actual damage.
Still other states are not as straightforward, but lawsuits have been successful when the tree does cause substantial damage or interferes with the neighbor's use and enjoyment of her property (constituting a nuisance claim).
The bottom line is that you need to check on your own state's laws, and you should probably consider having the roots trimmed to avoid future damage.
Where can I find more information about trees and neighbors?
The first place to look is your own state's laws regarding property and trees.
Tree Owner's Rights and Responsibilities (UT Extension)