My neighbor planted a tree close to my property line. In five years, it
has gotten quite large, and it is still growing.
He owns a concrete strip between our property and it is now starting to
crack where the tree is planted. I don't think it will be long and this
tree's roots will start lifting my beautiful plot of grass.
If this happens, what is the best way to handle this? Can the root be
cut on his side, close to our property lines, and is it a difficult job.
Of course, I would insist he do it, not me.
I would think I would have a legitimate gripe, but not sure what to do.
You can insist but AFAIK he's under no obligation in most states to deal
with root incursions onto your property.
You certainly have the makings of a "good beef" and it's a very interesting
In most jurisdictions I know of, homeowners may trim the branches or roots
of a neighbor's tree up to the property line. There are two important
caveats: You must not cross the property line to do the trimming. More
importantly, and much more problematic for you, you must make sure not to
injure the neighbor's tree.
Hacking a tree's roots is a good way to kill it. Even if you did what you
are entitled to do (trim those roots) in most places you would be liable for
the cost of removing the dead tree that you killed - if your neighbor can
proved it was the root trimming that killed it. For something delicate like
that I would hire a tree expert and get his expert opinion in writing that
the trimming would not be fatal or harmful.
I've heard of cases where the tree root damage is severe - i.e. they crack
into a septic tank. This is where things get tricky and a lot depends on
your local laws. Here's a good summation:
<<In most situations, a neighbor who is bothered or worried by encroaching
branches or roots of a healthy tree won't be able to successfully sue the
tree owner. Instead, the neighbor can go ahead and trim the tree himself. In
some states, however, neighbors may sue under certain conditions, including:
a.. If the tree encroaches onto the neighbor's property, the neighbor may
sue to make the owner cut the branches, even if no damage has been done.
b.. If the invading roots or branches cause serious harm to the neighbor's
property or threaten to do so, the neighbor may sue. "Serious harm"
generally means structural damage to property, for example damaged roofs or
walls, crushed pipes, clogged sewers, or cracked foundations.
c.. If a tree encroaches on neighboring property, the neighbor may sue if
the tree was planted, not "wild."
d.. A neighbor may sue only if the tree is "noxious," in other words if it
both causes actual damage and is inherently dangerous or poisonous.
In many other states the law is unclear. In these states, a case might be
successful if the tree:
a.. does substantial damage to the neighbor's property, or
b.. seriously interferes with the neighbor's ability to use and enjoy her
In addition to finding out what the laws are in your state, there are lots
of other questions for you to answer in getting to the roots of this
dilemma. What's the cost of the damage to the neighbors' septic system? Do
you like these neighbors and want to keep a good relationship? How about
splitting the cost? If you love your tree, how about your having the roots
cut back professionally so that the neighbors don't damage the tree if they
exercise their right to trim back the roots to your property line?
Sometimes, no matter what the law dictates, it's better to spend money to
fix a situation instead of paying the same money to a lawyer and losing a
I'd say it's time for a cup of coffee with the neighbor to discuss the
problem. If you're into arborcide you could dump a few gallons of
antifreeze on the roots in the dark of night. We had a "dead zone" for more
than 10 years where dad used to dump the used antifreeze when he changed it,
so I know it's lethal stuff to trees. But karma could cause that dead tree
to fall on you, so I wouldn't recommend the "dead of night dirty deeds"
Sounds like your neighbor picked wrong tree to plant there.
Ultimate solution is B4 it grows bigger to make bigger problem
Get rid of it, plant right kind for the spot. Better have a word with
your neighbor about this.
Find out what kind of tree it is, and then research the tree's growth
habit. Some trees, especially long-needle pines, have a lot of
superficial roots. Not all trees do. I doubt that you have any right
to cut roots on your neighbor's property, although you probably can do
so on your own property. You have air rights, as well, and can trim
branches that are on your side of the line; many localities have
specific codes prohibiting slicing off one side of a tree that is over
your own property or in any other sort of mutilation. Moving is
probably a lot easier that fighting with a neighbor about a tree (or
anything else). Good luck.
I would not INSIST that your neighbor do anything to his own property.
I'd talk to the neighbor in a friendly way. If that didn't work, I'd
try the zoning people. Don't know how common it is, but where I lived
before now, there was a code that said the city could remove hazardous
trees even if they were on private property.
On Thursday, May 8, 2014 7:20:53 AM UTC-4, NorMinn wrote:
Sure, I'd start there too. And if the response wasn't affirmative, I'd
then insist in a friendly way, ie not get nasty, that the neighbor tend
to his problem.
If that didn't work, I'd
Yes that's one way to proceed too, but somehow I doubt the neighbor is
going to take siccing the township officials on him any better than you insisting that he remove the dead tree. Personally, if talking failed,
next I'd send him a letter, stating the obvious danger and that he'll be responsible for any damage if the tree falls and does damage to my house
and/or kills someone.
Your dirt and grass is not like his concrete. The root may come close
to the top of your dirt, but that won't make a whole section of dirt
rise up. Probably won't even make a bump. The root may even eventually
pierce the surface of the dirt and grass, but it will look normal to
have a root like that.
Yes, but not by you legally. Try this yourself or pay someone to do
it, and you'll pay when he sues you.
You didn't say what city and state you live in. That shows you have a
lot to learn about asking questions, because state law varies, and
perhaps even cities may have special rules. You should go to the city
office that deals with this in your city and find out what the rules are
in your state and city. They will almost surely have a web presence,
and as you read whatever they say, make a list of questions for when you
talk to a person, after you've read everything on the web, for your
state. (I guess maybe there's a state web page, but around here I
think more information is available from the city or the county office.
I'm glad to hear you don't plan to do anythin on his property yourself.
He'll probably refuse unless you are really really REALLY nice to him,
and maybe even then.
I don't think you have a reasonable gripe. Nothing has happened yet.
Generally, you own from your property line up to the heavens and down to
hell, at least that part of hell that is directly under your lot.
In most or all states you can trim branches and roots that cross that
line (though I would back off a couple inches to be sure I'm not
infringing.) Be clear to anyone you discuss it with that your cutting
line is not your property line.
Despite what was said here, I'm not aware that you would be responsible
for his tree dying if all you did was cut limbs and/or roots on your
land. First off, I think he'd have to show negligence, maybe great
negligence, and I don't know how he would show either. Except for
When I trimmed the roots of my own tree that were lifting one square of
my own sidewalk, I painted the root stubs with that black tar they sell
for trimming branches. Comes in a 16 or 24 oz can. I didn't want "tree
germs" entering though the open root and killing my tree. A neighbor
passed by and told me I didnt have to do that, and maybe he was right,
but otoh I didn't know him, let alone if he was right, so I did it
anyhow. The tar is meant, afaik, for when branches are timmed, not
roots, so maybe he was right. I'd check and if "tar" is required, I'd
be sure to use it, and I'd watch to make sure anyone I hired used it.
And I'd rebury the root within a day, Other than that, I can't imagine
how you'd be negligent, but someone at the county or city office might
tell you how. Smile and ask questions and one can learn a lot.
You should be able to find the law yourself, in your own state, right
from the statute book, if you google tree roots state-name or
tree branches state-name. But you should still talk to someone
because the statute book, even an annotated statute book, doesn't have
I know exactly how. If they can get a professional arborist to say you did
something that destroyed the tree and the judge believes it, you're on the
hook for the cost of removal.
I saw a very similar case litigated once where a developer had piled a foot
of dirt or more around many of the trees in the housing development he was
building. He did it to regrade some areas to have gentler slopes. What he
didn't know (nor did I) was that the homeowners found TWO arborists to
testify that changing the dirt level around a tree is often fatal to the
tree. The homeowner assoc. got him to pay to remove the trees he had
inadvertently killed although they failed to get him to pay for planting
That's why I recommended to the OP that if the roots bother her enough to
need removal (and they could be a nuisance like a tripping hazard) then she
should get a pro to do it who would then be at least partially on the hook
for any damage and able to testify he used "best and accepted industry
practices" to prune the roots.
When a branch broke off my red maple in front, the damaged branch allowed
some sort of rot to proceed from the broken area all the way down to the
roots. When they cut the tree down you could see a red "wound" trail from
the broken branch all the way down. I had called them because I had noticed
the root ball had lifted up from the ground. They came one day, tagged it
and it was gone by the end of the week. The OP certainly wouldn't want to
face any "tell-tale" finger of rot or disease pointing right back to the
place she had cut the roots.
It's a tricky area that has a lot to do with what your state, city or county
says is the law. While I would and have trimmed overhanging branches, I've
left the roots from neighbor's trees alone just in case they died of natural
causes having nothing to do with me but that my neighbor is sure was my
I did the midnight flit to the offending tree, carefully dug a small
bit of soil away to expose a major root, used a narrow screwdriver to
punch a hole in the root, then applied a spoonful of Roundup
concentrate to the root. Covered it back up and went back to bed. A
couple of weeks later, branches on that side of the tree began dying.
The neighbor decided the tree was sick and took it down. Victory at
last! (they'd refused to remove it for years, even with us asking
nicely, and even after three times having major branches break off and
crash onto my car and block my driveway).
I don't recall ever seeing any tree whose roots were causing a problem more
than maybe three feet from the trunk.
Most of a trees roots are very small...wide spread but small, 1/4" or less
in diameter. Consider the myriad trees planted in cities happily growing in
an area maybe 24" square surrounded by concrete. IOW, I wouldn't worry.
You haven't any experience with maples? They're notorious for their
large, shallow roots systems running at and above the surface of the
soil. A mature tree's roots can be as thick as a mature tree's
branches. They usually occupy the area under the tree's canopy, so
again, on a mature tree they can cover a considerable amount of space.
I took down a half-century old silver maple and it was ten years
before all the roots had completely rotted away. I replaced it with a
red/silver maple hybrid in 2002 and it already has roots at the ground
level as thick as my wrist.
On Thursday, May 8, 2014 9:16:07 AM UTC-4, Moe DeLoughan wrote:
Where were you when I needed you? I had exactly that argument with one
of the regulars on here a few years ago. Someone was complaining about
not being able to grow grass under a tree and I pointed out exactly what
you did above. He claimed I was nuts, that all trees have the same
kind of roots, etc. I have a maple with exactly that problem, ie surface
roots that make it impossible to grow grass.
A mature tree's roots can be as thick as a mature tree's
The biggest part of the overall problem the OP has is that people need
some common sense and if they aren't familiar with a tree they are
thinking about planting, they should do some research. Planting anything
but a dwarf tree close to a "concrete strip" isn't a good idea. From
the neigbor's perspective, since the concrete is apparently not her's
and the tree is on the other's property, from a practical standpoint,
I see only several likely scenarios:
A- The tree really doesn't become such a problem. As others have said,
it may only push up the concrete on the property where it's planted and
have little real impact on the OP's property.
B - The neighbor agrees that it's screwing the concrete, is a problem
and agrees that it should be cut down. If the OP wants that to happen,
she should be prepared to pay to have it removed and a more suitable
replacement planted, further from her property line. Or at least split
C - It stays there, does cause some root problems on a small portion
of the OP's property and she just has to live with it. Despite all
the theoreticals about cutting roots, it just isn't practical to screw
around with doing it on a typical large tree. For starters you can't
even easily get at the roots as anyone who's tried to dig a stump out
can tell you. If you called in a pro to do it, I'd suspect they'd
tell you the same thing and/or that to do what you want could kill the
tree, the price tag for the work is going to be a lot of $$, etc.
Huh...maybe you've just been lucky with yours. I'm in a neighborbood
where 90% of the trees are spruce, silver maple, and green ash.
Everyone has bumpy, root-infested lawns and tons of tree seeds filling
up the gutters. OTOH, it's wonderfully shady. Gotta take the bitter
with the better.
I think that what you can do to solve the problem will depend on what type
of tree it is, where it is planted in relation to the concrete strip that he
owns (the distance), how wide the concrete strip is, and how far from your
property line (which you said is in your grass area) is from the tree
On my own property, I was re-doing my asphalt driveway and wanted to widen
it some. There was a tree nearby on my own property that had roots that
were going under and damaging the existing driveway. I talked with a tree
person, and we (he) ended up cutting a path in the ground between the tree
and my proposed new asphalt driveway to cut off all of the existing roots.
He used the same type of grinder cutting wheel that they use to grind
stumps. But, in this case, he just used the stump grinder to cut down deep
in the ground along a few-inch wide path to cut off any roots. That worked
and the new driveway is fine.
Before dong that, I had read that tree roots tend to grow horizontally not
too far below the surface of the ground. I was able to have the tree person
cut off all of those roots a few feet from the tree on just that one side
between the tree and the driveway, and the tree lived and is doing fine.
So, my suggestion would be to ask a tree person if you could do something
similar on your property, in the grass along your property line, to cut off
any roots that are there. At the same time, you could ask if another option
would be for the tree person to cut the roots on the neighbor's side before
they reached his concrete strip. Your neighbor may want to have that done
to prevent the roots from continuing to damage his concrete strip.
If doing the cutting on the neighbors side (before the concrete strip), I
would have the neighbor have it done and pay for it.
If doing the cutting on your property in the grass, I think you should pay
for it. The cost of doing this is not much -- maybe $175 or whatever the
cost of a routine stump grinding would be in your area.
Posting a photo or two may help give everyone a better idea of what you have
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Yeah, but I think they'd not be able do do that if all she does is cut
the limbs or roots.
But this is a very different story.
That's why I suggested asking about tar. AIUI, tar was never
recommended for roots, but I might be wrong. And Oren says it's no
longer recommended for branches. If it's not recommended for either,
than even if there is rot or disease, it's not her negligence.
That's why I said for her to find out.
Being blamed for something one didn't do can certainly happen. But
paying a pro to trim roots is a lot more money than doing it oneself.
My own tree whose roots I trimmed is not doing well. in that more lower
limbs are dying than usual. If I hadn't used the tar, I'd think the
lack of tar was part of the problem. (Not the trimming itself, because
I only cut one root and there are probably 8 or 10 others in various
You want surface roots? Plant a Locust.
Besides the tiny leaves that fall through the vents on cars and come
blowing out of the AC ductwork, they produce surface roots so bad that the
dirt falls away around them and you can put your hand underneath them.
An ice storm ruined a locust on my property, so I cut it down and removed
the stump by hand/ax/reciprocating saw/etc. The nastiest, gnarliest root
system around the stump I've ever seen. The next spring I looked out at my
lawn and saw hundreds of tiny locust trees sprouting from the surface roots
20-30 feet from where the tree had been. The line of tiny trees went out in
every direction. I ended up essentially ripping out my entire lawn by
removing any roots that were more than an inch in diameter, hoping to
prevent any more sprouting. It worked.
Since we are bitching about trees, southern live oaks are no picnic
1. Limbs prefer to droop rather than grow up. PITA to mow under them. Once
they touch ground they start growing up but then you have to mow around
2. They drop stuff...leaves, blossoms, acorns. Those are just once a year
but they drop limbs and twigs constantly; the limbs can be any size up to
On the positive side, they are picturesque.
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