Dealing With Neighbors and Trees
Does your neighbor have a tree that extends over your property, perhaps even stretching precariously over your house? Or maybe you have a tree with branches hanging over your neighbor’s yard? Have you ever wondered who is responsible for any property damage and the cleanup of debris if a tree falls down?
As a homeowner it your responsibility to maintain your property, including your trees, and to remove any dead limbs or dead trees that are at high risk for falling. An arborist can help you determine the health of your trees and recommend how to ensure the safety, integrity and aesthetics of your property. Often times healthy trees can be pruned to keep your, and your neighbors’, homes safe.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A TREE FALLS ON NEIGHBORING PROPERTIES?
A typical homeowners insurance policy will cover damage to your home and its contents, and other structures on the property, regardless of whether the tree was growing on your property or your neighbor's. Most policies cover hauling away the tree and debris if the mess is associated with house damage. Some policies will cover cleanup even if no structures were harmed. If the fallen tree belongs to your neighbor, your insurer might go after the neighbor's insurer to cover its costs.
Your neighbor is only responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line if you can prove he was aware that his tree was a hazard and neglected to fix the problem. Likewise, if your tree damages a neighboring property you may be liable if you knew, or should have known, the tree was in a dangerous condition. (So if you’ve pruned a tree or cable braced trunks to prevent problems, save your receipts to prove your diligence)!
IS YOUR NEIGHBOR'S TREE A NUISANCE?
In New Jersey the Supreme Court has ruled that while the base of a tree may be in one yard, tree branches that overhang another property may constitute a nuisance. In such instances, the person who is victim to the overhanging branches is entitled to an action for damages against the person responsible for their presence there. They further held that a landowner may lawfully cut overhanging branches of trees or hedges to the property line, but no further, and they may not destroy the tree or hedge on the neighbor’s land. Encroaching tree roots, however, are a different story. Tree roots are largely hidden underground and their extent and girth is uncertain and unpredictable. Their severance may endanger a tree’s stability in high winds and rainstorms.
This pictures illustrates how the homeowner on the left cut overhanging branches up to the property line to prevent leaves from falling on their driveway while not injuring the tree.
Of course, if you have a shared tree you would like to prune or remove the best thing you can do is talk to your neighbor directly and jointly agree on a course of action. If that is not possible, give us a call or send us an email. We are happy to help.