Your Trees and Your Rights

Filed under: Real Estate Law

We all love our trees, but sometimes they can be a bit of a nuisance for us or our neighbors. Yet, despite how bothersome their fruit and leaves may be, your neighbor does not have the right to remove or harm a tree which grows on your property. In fact, you have the right to recover damages if your neighbor chops down your tree, uses chemicals which kill it, or even removes enough branches that the health of the tree is harmed.

On the other hand, your neighbor is allowed to trim branches which overhang your property boundary into his or her yard. So you cannot sue for damages unless the pruning actually harms the health of your tree. Additionally, you could be responsible if your tree causes damages to the neighbor’s property. For example, if your tree roots cause damage to the foundation of the neighbor’s home.

In most cases, a claim has two necessary prerequisites before you can recover damages from your neighbor:

  1. Your property must be damaged. If part of your tree exists on your neighbor’s property (overhanging limbs, for example), you cannot be compensated if the neighbor simply prunes those limbs and makes the tree look bad. The tree must actually be damaged by your neighbor’s actions.
  2. The tree did not prevent any danger to others. A dead tree that is about to fall and possibly cause harm is not protected by the same law as healthy trees. In some cases your neighbor even has the right to enter your property and remove a tree which presents a clear threat.

If your case meets the above requirements, you may be able to sue your neighbor for damages to your tree. Generally speaking, you may be able to recover:

  1. The cost of replacing the tree, including debris removal.
  2. Diminished property value, if the tree was irreplaceable.
  3. Out-of-pocket expenses. If you spent money trying to save a dying tree, clean up debris, or repairing the yard, you may be able to recover these expenses.

If your homeowners insurance policy has already paid you damages for the lost tree, you may be required to deduct this amount from the damage claim against your neighbor. An exception to this rule would be if you are required to repay the insurance company after receiving a settlement from the neighbor. The above scenario is not the typical case, however. Usually a tree on one property causes some nuisance on the neighbor’s property. For example, your tree’s leaves fall into the neighbor’s pool, clog and burn up the filter and motor. In that situation, the real threat is a nuisance claim from a neighbor, which unfortunately often degenerates into a contest to see who can best bear the attorney’s fees associated with the fight. As is typically the case, a negotiated resolution is usually the best solution. For more information about tree damages and property boundary disputes, and about the best way to resolve such disputes, contact a qualified real estate attorney.

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