We can’t answer the age old question about a tree making noise if no one hears it fall. Let’s talk about what happens when that tree crosses a lot line, though.
Please remember that we are Realtors, not lawyers. If you want to delve deeply into local law or receive legal advice on this subject, give your lawyer a call.
Those glorious old trees are a real asset to a home, but they come with some responsibility too. From pruning to insurance question, they can raise concerns for homeowners.
Is your neighbor liable for damages if his tree topples and damages your home? Don’t assume the answer is yes. Like so many things in life, there are shade of grey to this question. A couple of questions need to be answered before anyone can determine liability. Was the neighbor aware of the fact that the tree was a hazard and did the neighbor refuse to act upon that knowledge? Once, I was sitting at my kitchen table when a strange noise made me look out the window. I watched the ancient, seemingly healthy oak in the neighbor’s yard topple over right onto their home. There had been no visible signs of disease or decay, nothing to indicate that it would simple fall over on a calm summer day. Had it fallen onto my garage, it is unlikely I would have been able to get the neighbor to pay for removal or repair since there was no sign of a problem the neighbor could have been aware of. My first call would have been to my insurance company, not my neighbor. My insurance company could then decide how to proceed.
A few years later, Mr X across the street was worried about a tree on the edge of a lot adjoining his. The tree was obviously unhealthy with branches extending over the sidewalk; had it fallen in the right direction, it could have damaged Mr X’s garage. Mr X began to proceed in the proper way: he sent a letter to the property own documenting the problem and asking the property owner to take care of. It would have been better had he included photographs of the issue, specified what he wanted done, and sent the letter via registered mail. This would document that Mr X had informed the property owner of the problem, and that the property owner neglected to fix it. Fortunately for Mr X, the property owner did remove the tree with no further action needed.
What about a tree that is growing over the property line? Yes, you can prune it, but only to the property line. Don’t forget to be neighborly. Let the owner of the tree know that you are having a problem with the tree’s growth over your property and that you want it pruned. This gives the owner of the tree the chance to do the entire tree properly instead of simply having a half-trimmed tree. If they refuse, you probably are within your rights to trim, but do so carefully. You could be liable if the tree dies after pruning, depending on local law.
Hopefully you never have to worry about these issues, but knowledge is always a good thing.