Sometimes disputes arise between neighbors when trees belonging to one property owner fall on and damage or destroy adjacent property. In such cases, the tree owner is only responsible for damage if some failure to maintain the tree contributed to the damage. If the damage was solely the result of a thunderstorm or act of God, the tree owner will not be responsible, as the damage could not have been foreseen. If a tree limb appeared precarious and the owner failed to maintain the tree after warnings, the owner may well be responsible for resulting damage when a storm causes the limb to fall. If, however, the tree was well maintained and a storm causes a tree limb to crash into a neighbor’s roof, the tree owner is not responsible. If, however, the tree owner allows the tree to grow so that it uproots the fence, it would be considered an encroachment onto the adjacent property. In that instance, the tree owner would be required to remove the offending tree. A boundary tree is one planted on the boundary line itself and should not be removed without mutual agreement. Leaves, bean pods, or acorns which fall off and end up on adjacent property are considered a natural occurrence and are the responsibility of the landowner on whose property they ultimately come to rest.
Property owners in every state have the right to cut off branches and roots that stray into their property, in most cases this is the only help that is provided by the law, even when damage from a tree is substantial. A property owner who finds a neighbor’s tree encroaching must first warn or give notice to the tree owner prior to commencing work and give the tree owner the chance to correct the problem. If the tree owner does nothing, the tree can still be trimmed. As a general rule a property owner who trims an encroaching tree belonging to a neighbor can trim only up to the boundary line and must obtain permission to enter the tree owner’s property, unless the limbs threaten to cause imminent and grave harm. Additionally, the property owner cannot cut the entire tree down and cannot destroy the structural integrity or the cosmetic symmetry and appeal of a tree by improper trimming.