Tree and Limb Law for Realtors and Homeowners: Here’s What You Need to Know

February 23, 2021

Nothing makes a home look homier and inviting than a big, billowy tree, especially during spring and summer. Although home buyers are often attracted to the aesthetic provided by mature trees, most are unaware of how tree ownership can impact their home purchase. This blog will provide all the essential information needed to understand tree and limb law, keeping in mind that the laws will vary state by state and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Whose Tree is It Anyways?

To determine if a tree is part of the property, look to see where the trunk sits. If a trunk appears to straddle both sides of a property line, ownership is shared.

How Does Tree Maintenance Work?

The owner of the tree is responsible for maintenance. That includes ensuring the tree remains healthy and does not pose any risks or hazards.

When tree limbs or roots are overhanging the adjacent property, the neighbor does have the right to trim branches and roots. In this case, the following rules apply:

  • The neighbor can only cut parts of the tree overhanging the property line.
  • The neighbor cannot enter the tree owner’s property.
  • If the tree is posing an immediate threat to cause irreparable damage, the neighbor does have the right to enter the neighbor’s property to remove the offending limbs.
  • Only limbs can be trimmed back. The tree itself cannot be harmed, cut down, or destroyed by a neighbor.
  • When a neighbor trims a tree, they must cover the expense.

What If a Neighbor Damages a Tree?

When a neighbor either purposefully or unintentionally damages a healthy tree on an adjacent property, they will be liable for damages. However, should the tree be dead or dying and pose an immediate danger, it is within the neighbor’s rights to take the necessary action to prevent damage. That can vary based on the jurisdiction, but generally speaking, even removing the tree altogether is acceptable when the tree poses a danger to the adjacent property.

What If a Healthy Tree Overhangs a Neighbor’s Roof?

Even if a healthy tree’s limbs are posing a potential threat to a neighbor’s roof, the tree owner is not obligated to trim the tree. The onus lies on the neighbor to cut the tree back to the property line.

What Liability Does the Owner Have for Damages Caused by Their Tree?

Although this situation can get a little unclear, in most cases, the tree owner will not be held responsible when their healthy tree causes damage to a neighboring home. That includes such instances as limbs falling on an adjacent dwelling or property due to a storm.

However, in the case where the tree is noticeably unhealthy or dead, and especially if the neighbor has filed a complaint about the tree’s condition, then the owner could be held liable for any damage caused by the tree.

The condition and position of trees should always be considered when purchasing a home. Understanding the basics of tree and limb law will ensure all parties understand their responsibility before they put in an offer.

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Note: The information provided in this blog does not constitute legal advice. All information on this site is for general informational purposes only.