Trees As Encroachment Issues
What Can I Do If My Neighbor’s Tree Is On My Property?
The Tree Problem
A very common type of “encroachment” is when a tree, or any form of vegetation, grows onto or across somebody else’s property. What is an encroachment? An encroachment is like a trespass, but instead of trespassing with one’s body, the trespass is performed with a building, a fence, or for purposes of this article, a tree.
So why is a tree a problem? What can somebody possibly have against plants? Well, plants aren’t always as harmless as they appear. Roots can cause serious damage to foundations, lawns, fences, and drainage systems. Branches can block sunlight, impede construction or break and fall causing damage to whatever is beneath them. Fruit and Berries can fall onto decks and roofs and cause further issues. Finally, there is the ultimate right of a property owner to do what he wishes with his property (within the confines of the law) and not have it affected by the actions or wishes of another.
What Can a Property Owner Do?
So, your neighbor has a giant oak tree growing right against your fence. The branches extend tens of feet over the fence and onto your property. Its roots come up in your lawn, creating tripping hazards all over. In the Fall, it drops acorns and leaves all over your yard. What can you do to stop this nuisance?
Actually, this is one area where Connecticut law allows you to help yourself. You can chop out any roots that are on your property and cut off any branches reaching over your land. Your neighbor may complain but you are still within your legal rights. There are two exceptions, however; (1) You cannot cut down the tree completely or knowingly cause its death and (2) with FRUIT TREES, you cannot cut down the branches or take the fruit. Further, if you cut down somebody else’s tree where you knew it wasn’t your tree, you could be liable to the owner for up to 3 times the “reasonable value” of that tree (Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-560).
What If A Tree Or Branch Falls Onto My House or Car?
It is a possibility that a tree or branch will fall and damage somebody else’s property. This is possible with trees that are already encroaching or trees that are not encroaching while standing, but are once they fall. Sometimes, when these trees and branches fall onto the property of somebody else, they damage the house, a car, a fence or other property. However, the owner of that tree (or the land it was growing on) is not necessarily liable for the damage.
Factors that control an owner’s liability for damage caused by his tree falling on somebody else’s property are (1) whether they are a private owner or a commercial owner, (2) whether the tree was healthy or diseased/damaged, (3) did the tree or branch fall due to an “Act of God” such as a hurricane, or because it was unstable, and (4) are the properties located in a rural or urban area.
Many tree and vegetation encroachment issues can be resolved by negotiation. If your neighbor isn’t reasonable, you may want to have an attorney write a letter on your behalf explaining your rights and the actions you are going to take. When roots and falling branches or trees cause damage to your property, you may want to seek compensation from the responsible person or persons. If you are having encroachment issues with a neighbor, our real estate attorneys are ready to help.
Reading More on Connecticut laws regarding vegetation and real estate.