Who Owns This Tree?

May 27, 2010

An issue that is very common in our often crowded urban landscape is trees and property disputes, and it can be confusing.  For more information or seasonal tree care tips, visit http://www.davey.com.

R.J. Laverne, Davey Tree Service expert and ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, is going to describe a few scenarios where issues around tree ownership may arise. 

The following information is general in nature. It’s of course not legal advice, and you should be aware of any applicable laws and regulations in your area. 

Often the first and best thing you can do in determining who owns this tree is to hire a surveyor to show you exactly where the property line is. 

• If the tree’s base extends past the property line, then the tree is jointly owned, meaning that neither Fred nor Ted can do anything that negatively impacts the tree without the other’s consent. This is true even though Fred originally planted the tree on his land, and it grew over time. In this case, it’s a good idea for both neighbors to discuss and agree on any tree maintenance, including tree pruning, before the work takes place.
• Let’s go one step further. Fred sells his home to Ned. Ned moves in and now wants to cut the tree down, after all it was planted on his land. Again, he can only do it with Ted’s consent, even though Ted had nothing to do with the original planting.  
• So what happens when the base of Fred’s tree is entirely on his side of the property line? The tree grows, hangs Ted’s pool, and he wants to prune the branches.  Ted can prune the limbs that cross the property line without Fred’s consent, but only if he takes care not to unreasonably damage the health or stability of the tree. 
• Say Ted wants to build a structure near the property line – trenching and/or compaction could seriously damage the tree’s health, or make it structurally unstable.  Ted has a right to the use of his property, but he is not allowed to cause Fred’s tree to become a liability and a threat to safety in the process.  If something were to happen to the tree, how do you determine its value? Your best bet is a proper tree appraisal, performed by an arborist. 

The best solution? Fred, Ted and Ned should talk.  Sometimes a little communication is all it takes. 

If you still have questions, contact your local professionally trained arborist, who can help you through the process.  Make sure you are dealing with an arborist who is well-versed in the details of tree-related laws and ordinances.

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