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Tree law: What homeowners need to know

Published June 6, 2024| minute read

    As a homeowner, you may be dealing with a subset of tree law. Maybe your neighbor planted a tree on your property line, or a neighbor’s tree is encroaching and blocking your view. You could even be wondering if you have the right to plant a tree in a certain place. Let’s explore how tree law can impact you.

    What is tree law?

    Tree law is the practice of governing the rights landowners and homeowners have when it comes to trees on or around their property. It helps govern planting, maintenance and upkeep practices. There are rules and regulations for how trees can be planted, how and when they can be cut down and whether they are in the right place.

    Laws about trees on your property

    As a homeowner, there are laws about trees on your property it helps to be aware of, and each state has rules specific to that area. However, boundary trees, overhanging trees and tree removal are potential issues homeowners may have to deal with. Here’s a look at all three:

    Boundary tree law

    A boundary tree is one of those pesky, leafy trees that sits on the boundary line of two properties. A true boundary tree is one that has sides that encroach equally on two properties. In most cases, each neighbor is responsible for the upkeep of their side of the tree. Despite their lack of self-awareness, boundary trees are known to create quite the stink in the legal world, as they sometimes lead to property line disputes if the tree becomes costly to maintain or remove.

    The same applies if you’re thinking about planting a tree on a boundary line. Just because you bought and planted this tree doesn’t always mean you have exclusive rights to it — if the trunk remains on the border, it’s technically your neighbor’s tree, too. Before planting a tree on or near a boundary line, you might want to confirm your property line. If you are insistent on planting it on the boundary, note that you’ll most likely need your neighbor’s approval, too.

    Overhanging trees

    Overhanging trees are trees whose trunk resides within one property but has leaves or branches hanging over into the yard next door. This can cause potential problems: for instance, imagine a neighbor with a boundary tree that keeps shedding leaves into your pool.

    While the ownership of an overhanging tree is often determined by its trunk, the neighbor may have the right to trim the branches over their lawn. As discussed, it’s probably best to begin by having a discussion with your neighbor. If you’re looking for specific legal advice, it’s best to consult with a professional before taking action.

    Tree removal laws

    While removing a fallen tree from your property is usually an easy process, there are rules and regulations on tree removal depending on your state. If you’re looking to get a tree removed from your property for aesthetic or functional purposes, you may need to obtain a special permit. Do check your local tree law to help understand your right to remove a tree on your property.

    How close can you plant to a property line?

    There are a few schools of thought on how close you can plant to a property line. With a boundary tree, you’ll likely need your neighbor's approval. If you’re looking to plant near but not on a property line, planting a few feet away should help give your tree room to grow without encroaching on a neighbor’s space. However, it’s hard to predict how big a tree will grow.

    In summary

    Tree law helps regulate what homeowners and landlords can and can’t do with trees on or around their property. While the rules often vary by state, you’ll likely find guidance surrounding boundary trees, overhanging trees and tree removal in your local tree law. Before you move forward, consider checking with your local zoning and governance. Depending on the situation, a simple conversation with your neighbor may suffice too.

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