Trees offer a lot of benefits to humankind. They provide natural shade in summer, they are a fortress for some wildlife, and they are beautiful. However, sometimes, they can be a reason for quarrel among neighbors, if they are not well-maintained, or cause damage to someone’s property. The problems sometimes get worse if the two neighbors don’t get along well. But whatever the circumstance is, you must understand your rights and responsibilities, so you know what to do and avoid making impulsive actions. Just ask Lyle with Jacksonville Tree Service about his experience with neighbor’s disputes around trees. He has seen countless times an untrimmed or fallen tree causing significant disputes between otherwise friendly neighbors.
If anyone in your community removes or harms the tree in your yard without your consent, that person is liable for the loss. If worse comes to worst, you can file a suit to enforce your rights.
The following are some of the most common questions about tree damage and the simple answers to them.
What can you consider as “damage” to your tree?
It is against the law for your neighbor to cut down your tree or cause damage to your tree’s health. For instance, it is your neighbor’s legal right to trim branches that hang over their fence. If in the case that the trimming caused grave damage to the health of your tree, your neighbor should be responsible for the loss. Your neighbor should also be held liable if he uses chemicals to handle invasive roots, and it accidentally destroys one of the trees in your property.
What should I prove to be able to claim damages from a neighbor who injured one of my trees?
There are two critical things that you need to prove in order to get compensated for a damaged tree.
- There should be evident damage to your property. For example, your neighbor trims a branch that crosses his property, and it resulted to your tree looking unsightly, but it wasn’t hurt in any way, you don’t have any right to claim for damage. Your tree must be damaged for you to have any right to recovery.
- The tree should not be an imminent danger to your community. Unhealthy, damaged trees are different from healthy, living trees in terms of their legal protection. To give you an example, if a dead tree is showing signs that it is about to topple off, your neighbor can intervene and come into your property to make the necessary actions and prevent things from getting worse.
Can the owner of the tree claim for actual losses as a result of a damaged tree?
Yes. If your neighbor or anyone damages your tree, you have a right to claim for the loss caused by the injury made by your neighbor. Even if an honest mistake causes the damage, you still have a right to this claim. The cost for the loss might account for:
The amount needed to replace the tree. The price would also include the amount required for cleaning up the area and the debris.
Significant impact on the value of your property. If the loss of your tree diminishes your total property value, you can claim for the decrease in your property value because of the damaged tree.
Out-of-pocket expenses. There are states where you can recover whatever money you shed for trying to save a damaged tree or to get rid of a dead one. The total cost might include cleaning up tree-related debris, appraisal cost, repairing your landscape, or having missed days at work to take care of the injured tree.
Aesthetic impact and psychological effect. Some courts have granted claims to tree owners for the aesthetic loss and psychological pain caused by the damaged tree.
What if your neighbor intentionally injures your tree, can you claim for more than the actual loss?
Some states have rules and regulations for this case. Some consider additional damages if your neighbor deliberately injures your tree. One example is in the state of Mississippi where you can sue your neighbor for double the total amount of the damage, considering both at he did it intentionally.
Not all states have specific statutes regarding intentional damage to trees, but you might be able to file charges for punitive damages. This is an extra amount above the actual cost of damage if it’s proven that the person who injured your tree had malicious intent to your tree.
What if the owner of the tree has already been partially paid by the insurance company?
In the case where your tree was damaged, and you have been paid your insurance company for part of the loss, you should take this amount from the other claims you will make, such as in a lawsuit. However, you can claim for this amount if you are asked by the insurance company to pay them back.
Is it considered a criminal act to deliberately harm someone’s tree?
Most states don’t consider intentionally hurting a tree as a crime. However, some states do have specific laws that consider deliberate tree damage a crime. The offender can be fined or serve jail time. Even if your state doesn’t have a particular statute addressing this issue, the prosecutor can use general criminal laws. He could use statutes concerning property damage or theft to pin down someone who intentionally injured a tree.
However, in most cases, prosecutors don’t go after people who injure trees in a community. They more likely go after commercial industries, such as timber business or Christmas tree business.
Who should I ask for help regarding laws governing trees and issues with neighbors?
If you want to learn more about laws concerning trees on your property, and what to do when they get damaged, it is best to consult with an attorney near you.
What should I do if my neighbor’s tree looks like it’s going to fall anytime?
Property owners should take care of all the trees in their yard. They have legal responsibilities in terms of inspecting the tree for any risky situation that can lead to safety issues. In case your neighbor doesn’t eliminate a hazardous tree, and it results in property damage, he should be held responsible.
If you have already talked to your neighbor regarding the tree concern and he didn’t take any action to resolve the issue, then you have specific laws to protect you. The tree can be considered a nuisance because it interferes with your access to your property and hundred you from enjoying your property to its fullest. A nuisance claim can be filed, and if the court grants the complaint, the tree must be removed.
Majority of cities have ordinances that prohibit homeowners from having hazardous trees in their yard. Your city government can remove the dangerous tree, or they can ask your neighbor to take it down.
Some utility companies can also intervene in the tree’s removal, especially if the tree poses a threat to their equipment or a potential fire hazard. If you call the utility service, they can go ahead and eliminate the tree for you.
A lot of trees falling is caused by intense storms or natural disasters, which is why homeowners do not have to bother about the repair and other expenses because their insurers would handle it. If they are not found responsible for the damages, they shouldn’t worry about premium increases as well. Sometimes, neighbors may still file charges to be repaid of their other expenses. You don’t have to reach this situation if you only prevent the problem from occurring. Make a habit of checking your trees for any sign of weakness or health issues.
A certified arborist can inspect and assess the current situation of the tree to see if it requires any immediate attention or treatment. They should also let you know if the tree would benefit from trimming or at least pruning or it needs to be removed altogether. You may think that this is not necessary and is just an additional expense, but it can actually save you from loads of trouble in the future. The money you will spend on a professional arborist is nothing compared to the repair or any legal costs you need to settle if your tree causes damage to your neighbor’s property. If you plan to reside in your community for a long time, it is fitting to keep a good relationship with your neighbor to prevent having unwanted quarrels with them. If you want to learn more about damage claims from fallen trees, get in touch with an agent.
Call Scott at Century Trees, Inc for more information on how to deal with this neighborly problem.