While trees provide shade and beauty to our homes, they can also wreak havoc when not properly maintained or cared for. As a homeowner, it’s important to understand your responsibilities when it comes to tree care and the law.
By following these two golden rules, homeowners can maintain harmony with their neighbors.
The Self-help Rule
The Self-Help Rule permits and prohibits the following acts of a property owner:
- May cut or prune threatening tree limbs from a neighbor’s tree only up to and vertical to the boundary line
- Without permission, may not enter neighbor’s property to cut or prune unless the limbs threaten to cause imminent or grave harm
- May not cut or prune the tree to the extent the act may injure the tree (i.e., kill or alter its aesthetic appearance)
- May not cut down the tree itself
The Duty of Care vs. Act of God Rule
A tree owner may be liable for the damages caused to his neighbor’s property if the fallen tree limbs could have been reasonably anticipated and something one could protect against. That is, if the tree owner had knowledge, either by self-observance or prior notice by the damaged neighbor, of rot or decay of the tree, then the tree owner would have likely breached his Duty of Care.
A tree owner may not be liable for the damages caused to his neighbor’s property if the fallen tree limbs were caused by a heavy wind storm. That is, if the tree was healthy, then it would most likely be considered an Act of God and the tree owner would not be liable for damages.