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Whose Tree is it?

Couple having argument in quarrelBefore you prune that tree, are you certain that it belongs to you? If a limb from a neighbor’s tree hangs over the property line, do you have a right to prune it? Who owns the tree if half of it is on the neighbor’s property and half is on your property? Who is responsible for the cost of pruning if the tree belongs to your neighbor but endangers your property? Think before you cut! Having someone on your side that understands tree law is paramount to making the right decisions to avoid future problems.

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Throughout time the tree has symbolized many things.  The Liberty Tree represented a historical event, the Tree of Knowledge represents biblical events and the Family Tree represents the dynamics of our families.  There is even the Tree of Life that is symbolic of the interconnectedness of all life on our planet.

The most powerful feelings we have about trees are for those on our own property.  Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same about our trees.  Our neighbors may not like our trees because they drop leaves in their pool, shade the vegetable garden, the roots may be lifting the sidewalk or block the view when backing out of the driveway and they decide to take matters into their own hands.

When dealing with neighbor disputes the most important thing that must be determined is, “Whose tree is it?”

The location of the tree’s trunk usually determines who owns the tree.  If a tree’s trunk is entirely on one person’s property, that person owns the tree, even if the roots spread under a neighbor’s land or the branches hang over it.  When a trunk straddles a boundary line to any degree, the common rule is that it belongs to all the owners of the properties.

Gallo v. Heller is the Florida landmark common law case for self-help relating to trees and tree parts encroaching into and onto the property of others.  The rule at common law and the majority rule in this country which is followed in most states is that a possessor of land is not liable to persons outside the land for a nuisance resulting from trees and natural vegetation growing on the land.  The adjoining property owner to such a nuisance, however, is privileged to trim back, at the adjoining neighbor’s own expense, any encroaching tree roots or branches and other vegetation which has grown onto his property. Generally speaking, a property owner can exercise this right to self-help but should adhere to the following caveats.

  1. Notify the owner of the tree in writing that you will be pruning the tree
  2. Do not trespass
  3. Do not cause irreparable damage to the tree
  4. Do not remove the tree
  5. Do not disturb the peace

When professionals in the arboriculture industry are hired to prune trees or parts of trees that belong to a neighbor, on a property line, it is important to ask yourself, “Is the tree really on my client’s property?”  There are three (3) ways to determine if the tree is a boundary tree.  You should get a copy of the original survey, determine if there is a marker listed in the deed or finally have a new survey done.  Once the ownership of the tree is determined adhere to the aforementioned caveats.

Our trees may not represent historical or biblical events but they do symbolize many days spent climbing them as children or the days our children climbed in them.  The memorable moments when you built that tree house or your child fell off the swing that was hanging from it. The array of holiday lights hanging from it along with the birdfeeder, attracting wild life. Or, it may represent the hard work and dedication you put into planting, watering and pruning it to make it your tree.

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