Did you know that trees are often used as “spite fences”?
They’re a beautiful amenity, until they are not. The shade they provide often is an encumbrance, especially to a neighbor trying to grow a vegetable garden. The shade is also most welcome until the leaves and branches start falling onto a neighbor’s property. A tree’s roots can be quite destructive. For all the attributes that trees offer, there is an equal and opposite reaction in many instances. That fact must be kept in mind whether you are a consultant or a neighbor.
An angry homeowner claimed that the hedge he had planted had been poisoned, something that is tough to prove. A laboratory needs the name of the suspected poison and a sample of the poisoned plant or plant part to detect a specific poison. But even with all that, unless a security camera caught someone applying the poison or someone admitted to doing it, most poisoning incidents fail to produce a defendant.
While there was no easy way to prove the trees had been poisoned, they clearly had been chain-sawed down at grade. Littering the landscape were 10 cedar trees that had been approximately 10 feet in overall height. These cedar trees had produced an opacity that could not be rivaled by a wooden fence. They were definitely trees used as spite.
My prospective client told me that his neighbor admitted cutting down the trees, so this was going to be a very easy assignment…or so I thought. All I had to do was appraise, which would be a simple assignment as they were growing in the open marketplace at the same height as the casualty trees.
I met the neighbor, who was both polite and clear spoken. He readily admitted he had cut down the trees my prospective client had just planted. Wait. Just planted? How long had the trees been in the ground? A couple of months only. And precisely why were trees 10 feet tall planted to form an opaque wall? To block the view of his neighbor, the future defendant, of the sun setting in the Gulf of Mexico.
Clearly this matter had gone South for my prospective client. He had erected a living fence, which still fit the definition of a fence. There were codes restricting the height of a fence, and permits necessary before erecting a fence. But the significant factor here was that the fence was erected to spite the neighbor.
These fences are even termed “spite fences.” A fence or other structure in the nature of a fence that unnecessarily exceeds a certain number of feet in height and is maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owners or occupants of an adjoining property shall be deemed a private nuisance.
It seems that Neighbor Law is an area of the law with some down- right mean players. One must wade through all facts before committing to one opinion or another. And check your ego at the door…
Have you ever been involved in such a situation? How did it turn out for you?