I'm curious about people's opinions on the following not-so-
If you have two neighbors, call them Dan and Bob. There is a tree
whose trunk is on Dan's property, but there are branches that overhang
onto Bob's property, in fact, one branch hangs over Bob's pool causing
Bob some grief. The tree is mature, and existed before either moved
into their houses, Bob wants that branch (and several others)
trimmed, but Dan does not want to trim the tree on his property.
Who's responsibility is it to have the branch trimmed?
I know that Dan has no legal obligation to trim the tree, but is there
an implied moral obligation (it's Dan's tree therefore he should trim
it), or is it implied that the trim is for Bob's sole benefit,
therefore Bob should do it? (And splitting the cost does not seem to
be an option here).
if the limb is over the property line, then it belongs to bob and can be
trimmed by bob. the cost is paid by bob.
if bob notifies dan that it is in danger of falling and doing property
damage, and it does, then it's dan's insurance that will get eventually get
I agree in general with the above, however I'd say just notifying a
that according to you a tree on his property presents a danger, isn't
sufficient to establish liability. If it was, one could just send a
stating that for any and all trees, thereby covering themselves for
all cases where a tree later falls.
For the neighbor to actually be liable, the tree would have to be an
actual danger, ie it's rotten, leaning, dead, etc. If its a
healthy tree on the neighbors property and it comes down in a
wind storm damaging your house, I'd say the neighbor is not
responsible regardless of whether you sent a letter or not. On
the other hand, if you had a credible tree service provide you with
a letter stating the tree is diseased and a danger and you sent
that to the neighbor, then I'd say you'd be in an excellent position.
And if the tree is so bad that is obvious from a picture, taking
a picture before it falls down would be a good idea.
As for the branches over the pool, it's the pool property owner's
responsibility to trim the branches back to the property line.
A couple things come into play. First, if it's easier to access
and trim from one property than the other, then a reasonable
neighbor would allow access. Second, in most cases, it
would be better for the tree, aesthetics, etc for the branch
to be cut off back at the tree, which in this case is on the
other property. But there is no obligation that the neighbor
If the neighbor is being difficult, I'd send him an email or
letter telling him what you plan to do. I'd say something
like "While the best way to trim the tree would be to do
it from your side and I have offered to pay for it, I'm now
going to have them cut back to the property line from
my side. That way it diminshes his opportunity to bitch
about it or cause trouble later.
There is a large tree on the lot next to mine, which unfortunately is
a rental property. The tree is not in the best of shape and if it were
mine, I'd have the entire tree removed. Many of it's (large) branches
hang over my property line and house.
A few years back a huge limb cracked off and fell across my roof and
deck. I was in the yard at the time, under the tree, when I heard a
series of loud cracks. Not sure what was about to happen, I ran out
from under the tree and watched as a huge mutli-branched limb came
There was no major damage to my house or deck and my insurance company
covered the clean-up. They then went after the landlord's insurance
company to try and re-coup the cost. I don't know if they were
successful but I do know that they sent a letter to the landlord and
his ins co claiming that they had gotten "expert opinions" on the poor
health of the tree and recommended that it be removed. I think they
were just, as you said, trying to "establish liability" for any future
The cost to me to remove the limbs that extend over my house would be
extremely high since they are not accessible via a bucket truck and
would need to be cut by climbing the tree and lowering them down in
small pieces between the houses/wires/etc. In addition, since it would
have to be done from within the tree itself, I would need the
landlord's permission. He's not the friendliest guy I've ever met, in
fact, he got pissed at me that my insurance company gave him and his
ins co a hard time when the limb came down.
I asked my ins co if they would cover or share the cost of the
trimming to eliminate the chance of damage in the future and they said
no. I even reminded them that they themselves had said that the tree
was a problem, but their answer was the typical "We'll pay for
whatever damage is caused if the tree comes down, but we won't pay for
On Thu, 26 May 2011 10:38:53 -0700 (PDT), DerbyDad03
I wouldnt' say "just". If someone, Don, has a tree in a far corner of
his yard, or a near corner but he never goes there either, or he goes
there but isnt' educated enough to know what a rotten trunk looks like
or that his tree may be close to falling down, a neigbhor or his
insurance company is going to get far better results if he notifies
Don that there's a problem. Some laws are dependent on what one knew
or should have known. Both can be issues, people can truly not know
what they "should have known", and it's hard to say what one should
know. Notification takes care of almost all of this.
IIRC he's obliged to give permission and if he's asked and doesn't,
the liabiility for all the damage is on him. Of course, you don't
want reimbursement, you want no damage in the first place.
In NC if a tree falls on your house, your insurance covers it. No
matter where the tree originated. If a tree on a neighbors property
is obviously damaged or diseased and you tell the neighbor that does
make it his liability. But it has to be clearly in distress, not just
leans a little.
So legally, I've found the following:
First, (and I just discovered this), the branches on Bob's property
are actually not owned by Bob... If it were a fruit tree, and it bore
fruit, Bob would not be entitled to the fruit. Therefore it is
actually Dan's tree, and those are Dan's branches. (This is Canadian
Law, which seems to be consistent with US Law). It seems that Bob has
the legal right to trim the overhanging branches so long as he does
not unduly damage the tree. But, just to muddle things, if Bob does
trim it, Dan still owns the trimmings. This means that Dan would be
responsible for disposal. Next, Dan does not have the legal right to
enter Bob's property to do any trimming without Bob's consent (and the
trimming would obviously need to be done from there). If a branch
were to break from the tree and damage Bob's property, Dan would not
be liable (unless Dan did something to aid the branch in breaking, or
he knew the state of the tree on his side of the property line might
result in damage to the neighbors property ).
There would be other special cases if the tree was planted after Bob
moved in, but those don't apply here.
Those of course, those are all legalities. At this point, the tree is
in good condition, so no breakage is likely. Bob is insisting that
Dan trim the tree and pay 100% of the bill (which, given there's a
pool involved, is not insignificant), but Dan doesn't feel this is
appropriate, and doesn't want to pay (and of course, he's not legally
obligated to, so for now nothing's happening).
re: " ...so for now nothing's happening"
Oh yeah...something is happening.
Bob and Dan are either building to a major blowout over late night
noise at one or the other's party (to which the other was not invited)
or they are headed towards years of not talking to each other, kids
that won't be allowed to play together and the other subtle issues
involved with a tiff between neighbors.
You remind me, that one reason I pointed out the difference between a
rotting trunk and a rotting limb over someone else's property is that
the law assumes that Don has the opportunity to inspect the tree on
his property, but doesn't expect him to periodically go on Bob's
property to check out the limbs there. Since this law was
estabilished, they may have invented binoculars, or even
drone-mini-helicopter with television cameras, but despite that, I
don't think they hold Don liable for knowing the condition of limbs on
someone else's property.
Well Bob has more to lose than Don. What if his little
granddaughter** is swimming there when the limb falls off, it hits her
on the head, knocks her out, and she drowns? What if this happens to
**It's about the children. It's always about the children.
In fact, you may find that if the work cannot in practice be done
without setting foot on the neighbour's property, then the neighbour
can be ordered to allow passage. I was told this in the context of
work on my foundation, which is a few inches from the property line,
but in fact I got on fine with the neighbours and I passed on their
concerns to my contractors and all was hunky dory. Lots of caveats
here: the work itself must be urgent in some way, etc. Moot unless the
neighbour refuses to allow you (or your arborists) climb from his side
and there's no other way they can do it. If it comes to that, you
really need to be talking to a lawyer, unfortunately.
But basically, the advice I've always heard is per the current
consensus: it's up to you - er, Bob - to have the tree trimmed the way
he wants it, at his expense. The bit about the neighbour "owning" the
resulting wood I'm not so clear on. Maybe Bob needs to offer it to
him, and if it's useful firewood then I certainly would, but as for
demanding that he pay for removal or take it onto his property I'd
want a lawyer's opinion on paper about that.
Obviously any of these lawyer options will pretty much end any hope of
a friendly relationship thereafter, but if the neighbour is being
obstructionist about reasonable requests, then you're kinda heading
there anyway, and better to be the one on solid legal ground.
Have the work done by a certified arborist, and they'll probably want
to do a tree health report before they start. That covers your butt
from claims that the trimming caused any future problems. Give the
neighbour a copy of the report, costs you 10 cents to photocopy and
it's worth big bucks to him whether he appreciates it or not.
Technically that part of the limb that is over the property line is
Bob's. Just because the limb hangs over the property line doesn't mean
Bob can enter Dan's property and cut it off at the trunk. Small nit, but
one I thought I should point out.
Depends on the situation and the state. For instance, if Bob notes
that the limb is in danger of falling and does nothing about the part on
is property, that might not hold, again depending on the jurisdiction,
since Bob had the right to mitigate that danger and did not. If, on the
other hand, Bob noted that the entire tree was rotting and then it fell,
he would have a better case since there was nothing Bob could do about
the part on Dan's property.
"Even I realized that money was to politicians what the ecalyptus tree is to
koala bears: food, water, shelter and something to crap on."
I think, given that the law has beeen the same for 100's of years for
most or all tree situations, including this one, the moral obligations
are the same as the legal obligations. It would be hard to maintain
that there is any moral obligation that contradicts the legal
obligation, since afaik most religions and moral systems deal in
spiritual matters and simple rules of right and wrong, but not
detailed rules like who is responsible for each part of a tree. (No
sarcasm is intended here. I can see why you asked the question.)
Laws can be divided into 3 categories, those that every society has,
like laws against murder and stealing; laws that are somewhat
arbitrary but some law is necessary; and the third category I can
I think tree laws are somewhat arbitrary. Laws fit together a lit
like a crossword puzzle, and if one tree law were changed, a bunch of
other laws might have to be too, and maybe it would work as well with
all those changes, and maybe some non-English based societies do
things differently, but this is the way it developed in England and
the US, and it's good enough. And moral enough because it applies to
everyone the same.
So as they say, Bob is responsible for that portion of a tree that is
over his property. And he's responsible to get rid of what he cuts
off, and not allowed, as someone wanted to do, to throw the limb onto
The swimming pool doesn't make any difference. He can cut the limb
off at the property line or any place on his side of it without
needing a special reason. However sometimes appearance is an issue
and it can be better for all concerned to think about that before
making the cut, or even to ask Don for his opinion, and if necessary
explain to Don that Bob has the right to cut the tree.
If cutting off a limb leads the whole tree vulnerable to disease, Bob
is obliged to paint the cut with that limb-cut-tar if that lessens the
chance of disease. Not in Bob's opinion but in the opinion of
experts. If experts disagree, Bob would be smart to do it and not
rely on some expert who agrees with Bob. (I was cutting roots of a
pine tree on my property and painting the 3 or 4 inch roots with that
tar. A helpful neighbor said it wasn't necesssary, even though I was
going to put dirt or the sidewalk back over the cut root. Was he
right? I'm curious what people here say, but I figured better safe
than sorry. If the pine tree has trouble, I'll think it was my fault
if I don't paint.)
I hope we're not confusing rotting trunks on Dan's property with a
rotting limb on Bob's. I'm not positive Dan has any duty wrt to the
limb. The usual case is when the whole tree falls over and Bob knows
or should have known the condition of the tree, the trunk. I don't
htink I've ever heard rotting limbs discussed.
I say this not because I think the limb is Bob's property. I don't
remember if that is true or not. That he has the right to cut it
doesn't not mean it's his property.
You might both be right, but I couldn't take the word of someone I
just met, and painting the roots were the last step before moving the
sidewalk back in place. I may have to do this again in 10 years,
15 total. I'll bear what you say in mind.
I used to ask for help to move one square -- one neighbor came over
and he brought pink rubber kitchen gloves with him. I gave him real
gloves. -- but I got very good at doomg ot alone with 6 or 8' 2x4's
under each side of the square, and working the 2x4 like an oar, I
ocould move the cement slab around. And short 2x4's to rest the slab
on when it would next to the sidewalk.
This may not be the definitive answer, but I've heard this more and
more on DIY shows, Ask This Old house, etc.
Painting the wound is bad for the tree. Much more important is where
you make the cut so that the tree has the best chance of healing
On Thu, 26 May 2011 12:22:26 -0700 (PDT), DerbyDad03
Even the roots weep resin?
Good. Anything that makes less work for me is good.
OTOH, nost that is written about this is aobut limbs, and not much
about roots. Maybe I was invalidly extending what I thought would
happen with a human, if he immersed his cut finger in a wet pile of
dirt (and maybe that wouldnt' be bad for people either.) but that I
was covering the whole thing with the sidewalk made me think it would
get wet and stay wet and take a long time to heal, and that there was
more to make it sick in the dirt than in the air.
One of the problems it lists for wound paint is that it can:
Seal in water, bacteria, fungi, and decay.
I figured underneath the sidewalk, wound paint was more likely to seal
such things out than in. Water, bacteria, fungi seemed likely to be
in the dirt. I suppose I could have left the sidewalk out of place
for a week until everything dried out, but I didnt' think of that.
This can be a tricky situation.
Here's how it works in many areas, but you should check with your own
municipality for the rules/laws specific to where you live.
If the tree is not a "boundary tree" (i.e. not on the property line)
and the trunk is fully on Dan's property, then it is Dan's tree.
If any part of Dan's tree extends over the property line between Dan &
Bob's property, then Bob has the right to trim the tree back to the
property line without Dan's permission. However, many municipalities
also have words to the effect "In trimming Dan's tree, Bob is not
allowed to unduly harm Dan's tree."
So let's say you have huge tree with the base of the trunk right
inside Dan's property line, with huge limbs and multiple trunks
extending over the line. It's reasonable to expect that if Bob
exercises his rights to trim the tree back to his property line he
will "unduly harm" the tree. That where it gets tricky and that's
where Bob should be careful.
Even if the trimming won't unduly harm Dan's tree, Bob needs to also
consider how the tree will look after it's trimmed and how it will
Depending on how the tree is trimmed, it might send out new growth
from the trimmed areas, simply recreating the problem that Bob was
trying to solve. It might also look unbalanced from various viewing
angles and/or really ugly from Bob's side of the tree.
On Thu, 26 May 2011 10:13:30 -0700 (PDT), DerbyDad03
Very good post.
IANAL, but even if it doesn't say that, it's probably still true.
The person wouldn't be violating the statute if he unduly harmed the
tree, because the statute doesn't say not to, but he'd still be liable
for damages for doing so.
Tort law is interesting in that much that one is liable for is not
listed, there is no one list at all, and sometimes new things which no
one has ever been liable for before can be the basis of a valid
judgment against someone. All on the basis of already existing
principles. Negligence, foreseeability, proximate cause.
I accidentally killed branches on one side of one of my trees. I was using
weed killer or ground sterilizer, don't remember for getting rid of weeds.
The next day I deep watered the tree. I must have sent the chemical down
deep. Soon after that the limbs on that side of tree died. How ever the next
year the branches sprouted out leaves again and got better in following
Just yesterday I was asking aobut this at a garden shop. I sprayed
weed killer on the grass, using the garden hose, and the first year
everything was great. The second year my aim wasn't as good and I
sprayed some on about 50 leaves of a poplar tree, and some of my cedar
Killed the leaves and limited amount of branches that held them, and
killed the cedar bushes.
The curling of the hose made the sprayer twist around sometimes when I
didnt' expect it.
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