Trees and Your Neighbors - Part 1
Trees are essential to life and our community. Our trees not only adorn our neighborhoods, they provide much needed respite from the dog days of summer. Other benefits include oxygen production, erosion control, storm water diversion, beauty, and historical continuity. Despite these benefits, trees can also lead to disputes involving debris, branches and roots threatening to damage nearby property. Unfortunately, all too often, tree related disputes arise when the property goes on the market. In this blog, we'll review some of the more common questions involving trees, ownership, and cutting a tree back.
Determinations of Ownership
Tree ownership depends on the location of the tree's trunk. A tree whose trunk stands entirely on one's own property belongs exclusively to the property owner, even if its roots extend into the land of the adjoining owner. On the other hand, if the trunk of a tree stands partly on the land of two or more neighboring owners, they collectively own the tree (Civ. Code § 834).
Right to Cut Back a Tree but Not Kill or Seriously Injure It
When the trunk of a tree is located wholly on the property of another, the neighbor has the right to remove those portions of the tree that overhang their property, whether they cause damage or not. However, the they cannot cut the tree down itself and the trimming must be done reasonably without harming the overall health of the tree. For roots, the rules are similar, except that some courts have decided that roots must be deemed to cause damage before they may be cut back.
Consult with an Arborist
A homeowner thinking of substantially cutting back an encroaching tree should consult an arborist. Even where there is no danger of serious injury to a tree, cutting back a tree must be done carefully. For instance, sawing off a limb can be a trespass where the saw extends over the property line. It's also not advisable to saw off tree branches in a vertical plane above the property line, as cut branches may lift and curve up soon after cutting, making it appear that cutting occurred on the wrong side of the property line. This may subject the pruner to a trespass claim, which may result in an award.
Tree Removal or Cutting Away Any Portion of a Tree
Neither homeowner may remove a tree on a property line without the other's consent, nor may either cut away any part that extends onto their land if by doing so, the owner injures the common property interest in the tree. As mentioned above, consulting with an arborist is advisable and so is reaching agreement with your neighbor.
Tackling tree issues before listing a home is best. In Part 2 of our Tree blog, we will cover questions such as when leaves from your neighbor’s tree clogs your rain gutters. If you want to get in front of any tree issues, reach out to us – our relationship with our clients extends beyond a transaction, because we value you and our neighborhoods.