How to Handle A Conflict with Your Neighbor Over Landscaping and Trees

storm-damageYou have a conflict with your neighbor over landscaping and trees. You would like to know how to handle it. We’ve got a brief Q&A to help you determine what to do. With help from FindLaw, these conflicts can be more easily dealt with.

Can I trim my neighbor’s tree branches if they hang over my yard?

Yes. You have the right by law to do so but remember this only applies to the limbs that extend over the property line. The law only allows for tree trimming and cutting up to the property line. You cannot go onto the neighbor’s property or destroy the tree. If you do harm the tree, you could find yourself in trouble with the law. Regular trees have a value of between $500 and $2500 and landmark trees can reach as high as $60,000 in replacement value. Be very careful when tree trimming.

Can I eat the fruit from my neighbor’s tree if the fruits hang in my yard?

Although it may be tempting, the answer is no. The fruit belongs to the tree’s owner. Of course you could ask your neighbor and he or she may be more than willing to let you. If the fruit falls, there’s a possibility you could eat it, but you’ll want to check with local laws to make sure.

Do I have a good nuisance claim if the leaves from my neighbor’s tree keep blowing in my yard?

No, you can’t. Leaves are considered a natural product. Even if the leaves cause damage such as clogging gutters or pipes, you have no legal claim against the tree’s owner. You are also responsible for cleaning up any natural products that fall into your lawn. If the tree branches overhang in your yard, you can trim the branches up to the property line as we previously mentioned. If you don’t already have one, you can also consider building a fence. It may prohibit some of those leaves from falling into your yard.

What if most of the tree hangs in my yard but the tree trunk is in my yard? Who owns the tree?

The neighbor owns the tree so long as the entire tree trunk is in their yard. When a tree trunk is divided by property lines of two or more people, it’s called a ‘boundary tree’. In that case, you and your neighbor are both considered owners. Tree removal without consent of all owners is not possible.

My neighbor dug up his yard and killed a tree on my property. Am I entitled to compensation for the tree?

Yes, you are. You can even sue for damages. Anyone who engages in tree cutting, tree removal, or injury to the tree without the owner’s permission is liable for compensating the tree owner. In some cases, the tree owner has been compensated up to three times what the tree is worth so it may be worth pursuing. However, you can also just talk to your neighbor and see what he says. He may make reparations without your needing to go to court.

Is my neighbor responsible for damages if his tree limb fell onto my property during a storm and damaged my property?

That’s not a clear cut answer. It depends. The court will most likely 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 fall, then you will probably not receive damages. If a reasonable person could not have avoided this from happening, then it’s an Act of God. The neighbor is not liable. If, after applying this reasonable standard, the court finds that the neighbor should’ve known that the branch may fall, then the neighbor could be found liable for the damage. In that case, he or she could be held responsible for the damage to your property.

If my neighbor’s tree looks like it’s going to fall on my house, what should I do?

Property owners are responsible for maintaining trees on their property. A reasonable inspection should be made of the tree in question. If it looks like it will fall, your neighbor is responsible for the tree’s removal. If they do not remove the tree and it does cause damage, your neighbor will be held liable for the damage. Of course, you might want to speak with your neighbor first. If they don’t do anything about it, you can file a nuisance claim. The court may then order them to remove the tree. Of course, many cities have ordinances prohibiting property owners from keeping dangerous conditions on their property. You could call your municipality and they may order that the tree be cut down. Finally, you could check with your local utility company. It may be in their best interest to have the tree removed. You have options. Exercise them.

Do I have to compensate my neighbors if the spreading of tree roots on my land damaged my neighbor’s septic tank?

Well, it’s possible. It really depends on your state’s laws. In most states, the bothered neighbor can engage in tree trimming or root cutting himself. They, then, don’t have a claim against the tree owner. Other states provide that the neighbors can sue if:

  • Regardless of whether there is property damage, a landowner may sue her neighbor to make that neighbor trim the branches that encroach upon the landowner’s property.
  • Serious harm such as structural damage caused by encroaching tree limbs or tree roots can cause a lawsuit. This structural damage refers to damaged roofs or walls, crushed pipes, cracked foundations and cracked or clogged sewers.
  • If the tree was planted, not wild, the neighbor may sue.
  • A neighbor may sue if a tree is noxious. That means the tree is inherently dangerous or poisonous AND the tree causes actual damage.

Other states are not as straightforward. There have been successful lawsuits when the tree causes substantial damage or interfered or interferes with the neighbor’s use and enjoyment of their own property. The truth is that you have to check with your state’s laws before taking any action.

We hope this has provided you with some important information. If you need help trimming or removing trees, please contact us at 512-341-8888. We appreciate your interest.