By Robert Fogg
Occasionally, we receive calls from people who are concerned about trees on a neighboring property and wondering what legal and ethical rights they have in the matter. While I'm not a lawyer, I can't give legal advice, only the benefit of my experience of working with different scenarios for the past 30 plus years.
Over the years, I've been directly or indirectly involved in numerous situations where, in the case of tree damage, insurance policies have come into play regarding who pays for what.
Naturally, I would encourage all property owners to work with and cooperate with their neighbors in the name of safety and security for both parties. That's just a part of being a good neighbor. But, it's nice to have a few guidelines to go by in the process. While there are exceptions to every rule, here's what I've seen established as “standard practice”.
There is a common misconception regarding trees that are located directly on a property line, that a property owner can legally remove every other tree. That's not true; the consent of both property owners is required to remove the tree. What about limbs overhanging the property line? Think of the property line as a vertical invisible wall. In general, you can remove any limb, or part of a limb, on your side of the wall, as long as it doesn't cause damage to your neighbor's property.
What if a neighbor's tree falls today and damages your property? The courts and/or the insurance company, if either become involved, will likely declare that it was "an act of God" and it's your responsibility. What if you feel your neighbor has a hazardous tree or limb that is threatening your property? The first thing to do would be to get an arborist’s opinion to see if it really is an elevated threat. If it is, the neighborly thing to do would be to present your neighbor with the proof and ask them to remove the threat, or at the very least, allow you to remove it. I've seen many cases where neighbors have split the cost to remove such threats.
In the rare case where the neighbor refuses to cooperate in taking care of a legitimate threat to your property, you will need to officially notify them, in some documented way, about the threat and your request that they remove it. This puts the responsibility on them to take care of the threat or be responsible for damage to your property.
We've seen cases where, in severe weather, such as a hurricane, everyone's trees end up falling on everyone else's property. The question often comes up about who is responsible to pay the bill. The standard procedure in these cases is that each landowner will take care of the damage and cleanup on their own property, regardless of where the tree(s) were located.
Hopefully, this information will help clarify some common property-line tree issues so that neighboring property owners will be better educated about what is, or isn't, expected of them. Thanks for being a good neighbor.
The author is general manager of Q-Team Tree Service in Naples and is also a licensed Arborist. He can be reached at RobertFogg@Q-Team.com or 207-693-3831.