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Trees are a beautiful and functional part of most landscapes, and we have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to the care of those trees. Tree ownership requires that we maintain our trees properly to prevent them from becoming a danger or a nuisance — and that’s where things can get difficult.

To avoid operating in “gray areas” we have curated a list of frequently asked questions regarding the legal and financial responsibilities of tree ownership.

Who Has the Rights to a Tree?

Before we discuss the finer details of your responsibilities as a tree owner, you’ll need to determine who owns the trees on your property. Here’s a quick guide:

  • If you — or a previous property owner — planted it and its main trunk remains within the boundary of your property, it belongs to you.
  • Trees that occur naturally within the boundary of your property also belong to you.
  • If a tree or trees are located exactly on the boundary line, they are owned in common.
  • If a tree is located on one person’s property but by course of conduct or express agreement the tree was treated as common property, then it belongs to both people.

You have rights as well as responsibilities when it comes to the ownership of trees. According to laws governing trespass, others are not allowed to harm a tree that is yours. If they cut, remove or harm your tree, they can be liable.

What are Typical Disputes over Trees?

Believe it or not, there are plenty of disputes over the disposition of trees arising among neighbors and between citizens and public utilities. Here are some of the most common, and their answers:

My neighbor has a tree that looks as if it might fall on my house — what can I do?

Even if the trunk of the tree is on your neighbor’s property, you are free to trim back any branches that extend over the property line. It is recommended that you use tree care professionals to do this to avoid damaging the health of the tree. However, if you think the tree might be dangerous, you can ask for an assessment from a certified arborist. Many city and town governments have rules in place that ensure tree owners take care of dangerous trees. If your neighbor refuses to comply, they may face fines from the city.

In some cases, you can even sue over non-removal of dangerous trees. You will want to have proof that the tree poses a danger to property or self and ask the court to issue an order that requires your neighbor to take down the tree.

My tree’s roots are spreading into my neighbor’s yard. Am I liable for damages?

This depends on which state you live in. In some states, the neighbor may sue if your tree was planted rather than wild. In others, they may sue if roots threaten to cause structural damage. In some states, the law is unclear.

Limbs from my neighbor’s tree overhang my yard. Can I trim them?

Yes. You may trim overhanging tree limbs up to the boundary line dividing your properties. But you may not cross the property line or conduct any activity that destroys the tree. Almost every state has laws in place that double or triple the monetary loss associated with tree replacement when someone intentionally injures a tree that is not theirs.

My neighbor doesn’t like the height of a tree in my backyard. Do I have to prune it?

First, talk to your neighbors to discover what about the tree is worrisome to them. It may be that a light trimming is all that is necessary. If you do trim the tree, be sure to hire a professional tree service to conduct the operation to avoid unnecessary safety issues and damage to property or the tree itself.

If you don’t want to cut the tree because it screens your view of your neighbors, make sure the law is on your side and that your tree is healthy, on your property and doesn’t violate any height requirement.

Trust Townsend Arborcare to Help You Be a Good Tree Owner

Being a good tree owner — and a good neighbor — is not difficult once you understand your rights and responsibilities. It is a smart idea to invite a tree care professional to assess your landscape to ensure your trees are healthy, correctly pruned and not posing a danger to either your property or your neighbors’.

If you do have a dispute over a specific tree, our certified arborists can determine whether your tree is healthy. If it must be trimmed, either to remove dangerous branches or to help keep the peace among neighbors, our team can ensure the job is done quickly and safely.

Tree disputes? Let us help. Contact a Townsend Arborcare consultant at 317-420-8548 (Indiana) or 440-578-7249 (Ohio) and get help determining the health of your trees or assistance with trimming or removal.

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