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Neighborly Tree Dispute Making You Want to 'Leave'?

Besides bad puns, there are plenty of reasons that neighbors get into fights over our oxygen-producing, shade-giving friends. Sure there are simple quarrels about fallen leaves on a lawn, but then there are more serious neighborly tree disputes that can arise when roots damage a driveway or dead limbs hang over your kid's swingset.

As with most conflicts, these issues can be taken care of with a few moments of communication between neighbors. This communication is most effective when you know exactly what the law governs when it comes to trees.

Here are some common tree disputes that arise among neighbors:

  • Fallen Trees or Tree Limbs

Trees are liviing things, which means they can be injured, get sick, and die. This can cause an entire tree or its branches to fall and potentially cause damage.

Liability for such damage depends on what caused the tree to fall. If the tree was healthy and fell during a strong storm, then no person is liable. However, if the tree fell because your neighbor knew the tree was weak or dead and did not take it down, then your neighbor can be held liable for the damage.

  • Cutting Trees

Cutting trees can get tricky because there are special laws governing who can cut what. In general, if the tree or part of the tree is on your property, you can cut it as you like. If the trunk crosses the property line, then it is co-owned by the neighbors.

When the trunk is on the neighbor's property and there is a branch over your property line, you can cut it directly at the property line. Here, you should be sure you know where your property line is and inform the neighbor before you start.

However, if your cutting injures or kills the neighbor's tree, you could be held both criminally and civilly liable. You could be put in jail for six months and fined $500. Also, if the neighbor sues you for cutting the tree, you could be liable for three times the value of the tree that was cut.

  • Rooting Out Problems

As far as roots are concerned, a neighbor is not liable for damage caused by roots growing out from her tree. However, like a tree limb, you can cut roots that cross onto your property. But be careful, because it is easier to damage or kill a tree by cutting its roots.

Now you have a good basis for how to handle a neighborly tree dispute and leave your good, neighborly relationship intact.

This post is part of FindLaw's Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life. Please come back to learn more from future posts in this series.

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