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What to Do When a Neighbor Complains About Your Tree

Issues with your neighbors involving trees on your property? You’d be surprised just how often this happens here in the Pacific Northwest. While every home has property lines, trees are wild organisms bound by no property line. This results in trees that bend and wind their way through 2 (or in some cases more) properties. 

Read on if you’re enduring a squabble with a neighbor or are just curious about your rights as a landowner. 

First, what you need to know about tree law

Whoever owns the trunk owns the tree

In all 50 states, the owner of a tree is always the property owner with the tree trunk on their property. Even if a tree mostly resides on another property, wherever the trunk comes out of the ground is the person who gets to make decisions, and has responsibility for, the tree.

This property owner gets to decide if it’s cut down, maintained, and otherwise altered. They’re also responsible for maintaining the tree in a proper and safe condition. 


If branches encroach on your property, you can cut them down

While you cannot alter a tree in any way that can compromise the health of the tree if it’s not yours, you can trim a tree down to your property line. This lets you keep the tree out of the way of your yard and prevents it from taking up too much space on your property.

Under no circumstances can you completely cut down a tree that does not reside on your property. This can lead to monetary damages totaling over $50k in extreme cases! 


The fruit of a tree belongs to the owner of the tree

If your neighbor’s fruit tree hangs over onto your property, the fruit belongs squarely to them. While legally fruit that drops onto your property is a legal gray area, fruit cannot be picked off of the tree and harvested for yourself. 

Hopefully, any situation where your neighbor’s tree is hanging onto your property will allow for an arrangement to be made where you can be allowed some fruit.


Damage payments can only be from negligence

Damage from a tree on someone else’s property can only be recuperated if appropriate actions were not taken to maintain the tree. If a tree branch simply just falls down during a particularly brutal storm, this will likely not be covered.

If the tree’s roots or branches spread onto a property and cause damage, this can potentially be covered. This is especially true if it’s argued the tree is not wild, but a planted tree.

Additionally, if the tree has not been taken care of and is a hazard in and of itself, any damage caused by falling branches or a falling tree can hold the property owner liable. 


What to do if a neighbor complains about a tree on your property

You never like to see 2 neighbors fighting, but relationships with trees can cause big issues. This makes sense given the importance of trees on the value of a property. Just think — a tree can create shade for your home while simultaneously blocking natural light in another, affecting 2 home values at once.

Some common disputes over trees in residential situations include: 

  • Branches are encroaching onto a property
  • Shade from the tree is blocking sunlight on q property
  • Tree in danger of falling onto a home

So what’s the best way to handle a situation where your neighbor is giving you a hard time about your tree?


Talk to your neighbor

The first thing you should always do is speak with your neighbor to see if there is a reasonable solution to the situation.

For instance, maybe the request is simply to trim the tree in a way that will be inconsequential to you. If this is the case, then you can avoid a large headache and solve the issue with a simple solution.

Another option is if you don’t mind if your tree is altered, you just don’t want to pay for it. There are likely solutions that can be worked out where your neighbor can pay for the work that needs to be done and the issue settled. 

In more extreme cases, private financial agreements can be negotiated so that both parties feel made whole.


Hold your ground if you like your tree

One thing that should absolutely never happen is for you to feel pressured to alter your tree or cut it down for an unreasonable request. 

Besides adding a beautiful landscape element to your home and being good for the environment, trees add value to your property. Simply cutting it down to appease a neighbor is not a good solution. 

If the tree comes out of the ground on your property, what happens to it is your decision. 


Talk to an expert and know the law

If your neighbor wants the tree cut down or maintained in a certain way that seems off to you, talk to an expert. While in all likelihood you are the one in control of the situation, speaking to an expert will provide you with knowledge and knowhow on how to responsibly handle disputes that develop with your neighbor.

This will allow you to defend your rights and your property’s value in the best and most effective way possible. They can also potentially provide you with options and solutions for de-escalating the situation and finding a way for everybody to win.


If they illegally hurt your tree, consider legal action

If things progress to a point where your neighbor has damaged your tree more than is their right, consider legal action to make things right.

As already discussed, trees add monetary value to not only your property, but your life as well. Anyone who damages that value should have to pay to make up for your loss. While most trees have a replacement value around $2,500, trees that are historically significant, landmark trees, or ornamental trees can carry replacement values over $50K


Maintain it to a reasonable condition

No matter what, maintaining any trees on your property will ultimately cause fewer issues with your neighbors and potentially even stop these issues from happening at all. It also protects you in the event your tree causes harm to a home in the future and is good for the long-term health and value of your tree.

At NW Arbor Culture, we help Portland-area homeowners keep their trees in tip-top shape and healthy for life. Contact us today to see how we can help you.


Need help maintaining your tree? NW Arbor Culture can help! 

Whether you need to cut down your tree, maintain it, or just need a consultant on what the best course of action to take with your dispute, our arborists can help you through your conflict.

Contact us today to learn more and get started. 

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