neighboring trees dead and dangerous - who's responsible for what

WendyB(5A/MA)April 30, 2010

There are 3 huge dead pine trees on the other side of my property line, that undoubtedly will fall someday. (I wonder how long that takes?) They are spewing twigs and small branches galore. (cleaning up after yesterdays wind storm reinvigorated my frustration)

Does anyone know the deal with who's responsible for what in this type of situation? Any stories to share.

Obviously, I can't cut them down (nor do I want to) on someone else's property, but do I have any rights to force the owners to cut them down or prevent damage to my property (and power lines which are in direct line of sight!). Just writing that, it sounds bizarre and I'm sure the answer is NO.

Oh, and it's town-owned property. The town has sent someone (the wrong dept) to look 2 years ago when I first noticed the problems, but nothing came of it. And no response to my inquiries.

My first concern was the cause of death and the surrounding healthy pine trees, but so far so good. Now I'm concerned with future serious damage and current annoying debris.

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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

You can't force anybody to cut down trees on their own property. I'm not sure if the town is libel or not for any damage that the trees may cause. It may be in the Act of God category.

If the town sent someone from the wrong dept then why not follow up with the correct dept.

I think you're out of luck other than cutting them down yourself (in secret of course).

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 9:37PM
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hmm....wouldn't an Act of God be a thunderstorm causing a tree to fall... I see it as a failure to maintain. (well, I didn't actually see it that way until I just googled "do I have an obligation to prevent my trees from causing damage to a neighbors property". Fascinating what google can find!!!)

It comes from Calif, but the concepts are dead on.

But I don't want to sue after the fact. I really just want the trees down before a problem occurs.

The "wrong dept" issue was that there some question if the land was conservation land or not. THe "right" people were notified but are ignoring the issue. I think its probably time for some pictures and a dated letter.

Oh, I bet its also a good question for my insurance agent too.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 9:55PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

What I was referring to as an act of God is that the tree was not actually planted by a human but rather occurs naturally. From cases that I've read, the owner is not usually libel for such circumstances. If they planted the tree though, they can in some instances be held responsible. The laws in these matters are extremely complicated and vary wildly from state to state. Only an attorney who specializes in these matters can really tell you what your options are in MA. You might try calling one up. They may give you some free advice on the matter or charge you a nominal fee for the info. I would definitely take photos of the tree and keep a copy of a notarized letter to the proper department in your town asking that the trees be removed. This would improve your chances in court. I keep thinking of potholes, though. You can take pictures of them all day and fire off a million letters to various state agencies about them and when the day is done the state is still not libel for any damage to your car from them.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 10:31PM
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Ah yes, I am just reading another article where that angle came up:

Interestingly, there may be a difference in liability for a tree of natural growth (not planted by man) and one planted by the existing landowner or predecessors. For instance, if a Eucalyptus tree in a hedge row falls onto a neighborÂs property the landowner would probably be responsible. However, if a 200 year old Valley Oak had a crown that split apart, thereby causing damage, the ruling may be different as the tree was of natural origin.

The term act of God is often resorted to in legal battles, when it comes to damage inflicted by trees. However, the term will usually not apply, and a homeowner will generally not escape liability for damages caused by a diseased or otherwise unsound tree  that could have been prevented by the aforementioned reasonable duty of care.

Good analogy with the potholes.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 10:35PM
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cloud_9(z5 CT)

It is my understanding that if you have pointed out the liability of a dead tree to the owner and the tree then causes damage, they are negligent. Perhaps you could up the ante with the town to do something by "hoping to avoid a future lawsuit". Find out whose head would roll in such an event, notify them and document everything.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 11:10PM
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Interesting question and I'd like to know the answer...friends of mine have had an enormous limb from a neighbors old sickly pine deposited after each of the last two nor'easters. Luckily both times the limb fell exactly between the house and the fence, causing no damage but a considerable amount of work for them, having to chainsaw it down.

The owners of the tree are absentee landlords. I've told them that if it were ME I'd be calling them up and telling them it's time for this tree to come down before it caves their roof in...I mean, each of the last two storms, it loses a sizable chunk? So dangerous.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 7:09AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

If they're a danger to the power lines, you could try contacting the utility. Around here the utilities pro-actively prune trees (whether you want it or not) and they just might respond.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 12:38PM
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Don't have an answer on the debris but call your insurance agent. IF the trees were healthy and fell, hitting your house, it would be considered an act of nature - your insurance policy would respond. Since they are dead and a hazard, you need to officially notify (certified mail) the owner (the town) that they are a hazard. I believe, once you officially notify them, that any damage that happens, is now THEIR responsibility .

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 9:02PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

We had a neighbor with a dead crabapple that was about 4ft from our fence. It was an eyesore more than a danger. They left it there dead for about 5 years. This neighbor has no interest in their yard at all. They never step foot in it. Which is fine, they have other interests. They hire a neighbor boy to mow. Have a huge bittersweet that has covered one entire side of their property on a fence. We knew that they had some health issues to deal with about 4 yrs ago, so we were patient. We asked if our oldest son could come over with his chain saw and cut down the dead tree. It wasn't that large, about 15 ft tall. They didn't want the liability if he hurt himself on their property which I could understand. But one day there was a professional tree person in the neighborhood, so we grabbed him and asked the neighbor if they would allow us to pay for a professional who was insured, and they agreed. We knew they didn' t have the finances to do it. So since he was there to do the dead tree, we were able to have the large limbs hanging over our yard taken care of too. It was not that expensive and it was so worth it to us.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 5:42AM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

I had a Pitch Pine on town property that was such a threat a neighbor once commented that she held her breath each time she drove by. After calling the public works department they sent someone over and cut down the wrong tree!! It took quite a while but what I finally figured out was other than emergencies they tend to stick to a pretty tight project schedule and they are not apt to send out a crew and chipper truck for one tree (unless of course it has fallen). I would suggest you pay them a visit rather than calling and ask what month or months do they schedule road side brush/tree work in your area of town and ask to be put on the schedule. You might even pay them a second visit as a reminder at the beginning of that month. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 7:34AM
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We have the opposite end of this - when we bought the house, we didn't notice the large gash (a long-ago healed lightning gash) in the ENORMOUS pine tree that's just barely on our side of the property line. A couple years ago, the house next door sold, and the new neighbors freaked out. The gash faces them, so they noticed it. They asked us to cut the tree down.

Problem is, it would take a crane to get the thing out - it's easily 20-30+++ feet above the roofs of the houses. To get in there, the crane would have to drive over our leach field, which would crush the entire leach field and require replacing the field afterwards. I shudder to think of the bill.

Frankly, the tree looks healthy to me. It's still vigorous and doesn't drop branches any more than other trees around. To be safe, I had a tree guy come by. He told me he thinks it will stil be here for years and years, and all the above about the crane. He only knew of one person around who *might* be able to handle the work. I should have asked him if he'd write all that down so we don't look negligent, but I didn't think to, because I really don't think anything will happen.

All our houses nestle in the woods. We're the type to figure out how to live in harmony with that. The neighbors let a logger in last summer to clear-cut their entire yard. (I think they're not into living in the woods.) When they had the logger in there last year, I tried asking the logger & them to go the last bit and get the tree, but the logger would never discuss it with me. (I'm not sure he had the equipment, given that it's between both houses.)

And the neighbors didn't try and help solve the problem. If they wanted it solved that badly, that would have been the time to do it - we could have gotten a crane in through their clear-cut yard, which was obviously torn up already. We would have been happy to give them permission at that time to get it cut down on their own. We don't have the huge amount of money sitting around that it would take to get the thing out, and an expert's told me it's just fine.

They're not actively hostile or anything, but I do know they think we should get it taken care of. What do you do in a situation like this?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2010 at 11:15PM
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cando, seems that the "hazardous" criteria does not exist so there is no reason to remove it. disfigured is not hazardous. You said the gash is healed, right? And, just like I need to officially notify the tree owner of the "hazard" in writing, so would they.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 8:15AM
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capecodder(z6 MA)

Between last summer and this year, we've spent over $1500 on trees (for removal) that belong to us, but are adjacent to our next door neighbor's property...they were dead trees, and if they'd fallen, they might very well have landed on his house...but nowhere near our house. The neighbor is the one who originally called the tree removal company, and I THINK he was going to pay, but we felt obligated as they were on our property. I guess you could call us good neighbors!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 9:29PM
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