Trees, Neighbors and the Law
There are not many days that go by that we do not field a question in the office regarding a tree on or near a property line. Often, a caller has the need to trim back a neighboring tree to their property line so as to eliminate the tree encroaching and overhanging their property. As many of you who have called us asking this question know, we discourage this practice for several reasons. Most importantly, trees were never intended to be property specific as it relates to those that grow on or near a property line. Nature never intended a tree to grow up to a property line and then cease all growth prior to crossing over to another property.
The case law is specific; the portion of a tree that crosses the property line becomes the property of whose line it crossed. This is where the confusion begins because there is also a legal obligation not to damage your neighbor’s property. Although that portion of the tree that has crossed your property line is your property, you must pursue proper pruning practices and not cause damage to the tree being pruned.
When one cuts a tree vertically at the property line they produce an effect referred to as “flat siding”. Flat siding is arboriculturally improper due to the adverse effects on the overall health of the tree. However, if the tree in question is causing damage to your property and that damage is notable and justifiable, then you have the “right to self-help” as explained above. An example would be a neighbor’s tree that has roots that cross the property line and are interfering with your sewer line causing frequent backups. The first course of action would be to engage your neighbor with the help of an arborist to remedy the issue. If this fails, you have the “right to self-help” in that you may then take action to prevent the “nuisance” tree from causing additional damage to your property. Many times this exact scenario has landed neighbors in a court of law where the court must adjudicate the issue. Overwhelmingly the courts have found that in these cases the affected litigant has the “right to self-help” in resolving the issue.
When a customer comes to Adirondack Tree Experts with an inquiry about trees that are overhanging their property we first inspect the tree to determine what type of pruning and to what extent pruning can be done to satisfy their needs. If the pruning can be done in an arboriculturally correct manner, we request permission to prune from the owner of the tree. Thereby ensuring that all parties are aware of the scope of work and agree thereto. Said permission is obtained in writing by a signature that is affixed to the work proposal. With this, we mitigate any potential for conflict or disagreement after the work is performed. In the end, it is our sole mission to ensure that we maintain your trees by employing only the best arboriculturally sound practices and that we create an atmosphere of neighborly cooperation where everyone is happy with the end result.