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Tree Roots, Property Lines, and Neighbors

Tree Roots, Property Lines, NeighborsTree roots, property lines, and neighbors: Tree roots do not recognize or respect property lines. They regularly cross property lines without conscience or the realization of doing great harm. The question becomes, what to do with them once they do cross a property line and pose a risk to the neighbor or his property.  Root pruning comes to mind; however, it may be wise to consider actions of self-help.

Self-help itself is the remedy by law that states it is wiser to leave the individual to protect himself then do subject the other to the annoyance of actions that law which would likely be innumerable.  Easy for the courts to say. Putting those words into action often results in legal repercussions by the party responsible for severing the roots.

The issue at hand involves a very common theme. The roots of a pine tree belonging to neighbor A cross the boundary line of neighbor B and head directly to its favorite living space, a sewer line, causing damage to the sewer line that ran under the driveway.

Fixing the sewer line necessitated removing and replacing the driveway. While remedying the driveway issue, some roots of the pine tree were severed. This action caused the owner of the pine tree undue concern regarding its structural integrity and increased the risk that the pine tree might one day fall on to plaintiff’s home. Plaintiff paid to have the pine tree removed and abate the risk.

The owner of the pine tree sued to recover the costs of removing the subject tree. Neighbor B, whose driveway and sewer line were destroyed by the encroaching roots cross-appealed the judgment, arguing that the court erred in finding them liable for damaging the tree and that they had the right to cut the tree roots that encroached onto their property. Self-help.

The issue in this matter boiled down to whether the adjoining property owner was liable to the tree owner when self-help caused damage to the tree. Noting that self-help (Gallo v. Heller) reflects the predominant view around the country, that an owner of a healthy tree is not liable to an adjoining property owner for damage caused by encroaching tree branches or roots, but the adjoining property owner is privilege trim back at his own expense any encroaching tree branches or roots which has grown onto his property.

Because no controlling precedent address this issue, it followed that the court did not violate clearly established law in ruling the way that it did. The neighbor who cut the roots undisputedly had a right to do so. The only damage claimed were costs of tree removal. Had the lawsuit alleged damages to persons or property other than the tree, a different outcome may have been realized.

And there are cases where different outcomes have applied when cutting encroaching tree roots. Cases that state reasonable care must be exercised when cutting encroaching branches or limbs, and that cutting encroaching tree roots does not extend to the destruction or injury to the main support system of a tree.

Caution is always the best exercise when cutting encroaching tree parts. Perhaps the best person to differentiate the forest from the trees would be an attorney.

The articles presented here do not make any legal recommendations or representations, as the author is not qualified to do so. These articles are for educational and entertainment purposes only. Seek the advice of a qualified attorney regarding questions of law.

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