Tree Law: A Guide To Understanding Your Property Line Rights
Morgan McBride4-MINUTE READ
May 26, 2021
Tree law might sound like an obscure subtopic of the legal system, but it’s actually very prevalent. It is important to be aware of the laws surrounding trees in and around your property. Maintaining trees is expensive, but dealing with the aftermath of tree falls can be more expensive. Here’s how to manage trees on or near your property lines.
Tree law is a section of the legal system that focuses on disputes about trees. These are often between neighbors and focused on how trees grow along property lines. All tree law regulations are localized – usually set by the state, but often the county or city will have laws as well. There are some policies that are generally followed in most areas regarding tree ownership and responsibility.
Planting Trees Near Your Property Line
One of the best ways to avoid a legal dispute over trees is to use caution and follow all local regulations regarding the planting of trees near property lines. In general, if any part of the tree’s trunk is on your property, you are the owner. So, if a tree sits on a property line, it’s considered common property and you are both owners. For this reason, you cannot legally plant a tree on the property line without permission from your neighbor. It’s best to plant trees 3 – 4 feet from all property lines to leave room for future growth.
What To Do If A Neighbor Plants Along Your Property Line?
If a neighbor plants a tree on your property line and you don’t like it, the best thing to do is to talk to them. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t realize that it is impeding on your space or could cause a long-term issue. Trees are often expensive and your neighbor might think that they are doing you a favor “giving” you a tree!
If that doesn’t go well, and your neighborhood has an HOA, you can reach out to them to contact your neighbor. If they are in violation of a city code, you could reach out to the city. Finally, you could contact a lawyer specializing in tree law to help mediate the situation. But remember, the easiest, cheapest and most-friendly way to deal with a tree dispute is to try talking to your neighbor.
Maintaining Trees Along The Property Line
Legally, you are not allowed to enter a neighbor’s property, even to trim a tree. So, if a tree is on a property line, you are each responsible for the upkeep on your side of the tree. This can obviously lead to disputes if the owners disagree about tree maintenance, and is why it’s best to avoid planting on property lines if at all possible.
What To Do About Overhanging Branches
It’s important to understand homeowners' rights concerning the property line to what they legally can do about overhanging branches, shrubs and hedges from a neighbor’s tree. Typically, you have a right to trim any branches that cross onto your property line. This would include trimming up to the property line, but not beyond it. If you damage the tree, you can be held liable for damages and penalties – which courts have found to be as much as three times the value of the tree!
If a tree is fruit-bearing, technically you are not legally entitled to any fruit off of the tree, even if it hangs over your yard. Fallen fruit may become your property if it lands in your yard – but in some areas, even fallen fruit is considered property of the tree owner. There is no recourse for leaves falling from the trees – once they fall into the yard, they are considered a natural product and the tree owner is not responsible for cleaning them up.
What To Do If A Neighbor’s Tree Grows Into Your Yard
Trees can grow to have their branches, trunks, or roots reach into your yard. If any part of the tree, including branches or roots, grows into your yard, you have the right to cut it. However, you might want to hire a professional arborist. If you cut the roots and it causes the tree to die, you could be liable for damages.
Tree Removal Or Damage: Who Is Responsible?
What if you need to remove a tree that is on a property line? Each state's laws differ, but both homeowners cannot destroy the tree without the consent of the other, and if they do so, the homeowner is responsible for repaying their neighbor. In general, legally, the removal of the tree would have to be mutually agreed on and the cost split between the two owners.
My Neighbor Cut Trees On My Property, What Now?
If your neighbor cut your tree, the best thing to do is talk to them first. It could be a misunderstanding that you could work out verbally. Otherwise, you will need to determine the owner of the tree – based on the location of the trunk – and what damage they did. If they caused damage that will lead to the death of the tree, and you want to pursue legal action, reach out to a tree law attorney who can help you to determine what damages you might be entitled to.
The Bottom Line: Know Your Property Line Rights Regarding Planting Trees
Tree law is actually quite simple and is a great recourse to fall back on if you are unable to peacefully negotiate a tricky tree situation with a neighbor. Be sure to learn more about finding your property line.
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