Invasive boundary tree--pruning to death?
May 2, 2016 4:23 AM   Subscribe

There are several established invasive trees on my neighbor's side of our property line. By right, I can have overhanging limbs removed. At least one of the trees has all of its limbs on my side of the line, and I presume removing them all would kill the tree. Am I in my rights to do so?

Neighbor (whom I don't know well, but have met) has a number of Norway maples on his lot, which are invasive and banned in my state. They block the sun to my yard, run me ragged with their leaves and keys, and in some cases have dropped larger limbs on my property.

At least one has all its limbs on my side of the property line--angling its limbs to get out from the large canopy of Norway maples. Cutting the limbs will surely kill the tree, leaving a 12 foot trunk where the tree meets the property line mid-air.

I will, of course, talk to the neighbor, and the work would be done by a licensed arborist from my side of the line. I would offer to remove the stump at my cost, and if he's willing, split the cost of removing other trees. Other neighbors have informed me that neighbor has historically refused to cooperate to address the invasive trees.

I'll be talking with my arborist and my town, but have you been in this situation where a tree totally overhangs your property line? YANM lawyer or arborist.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A boundary tree is technically a tree that is right on the property line and owned jointly by the two neighbors - that's different than a tree that sits just to the side of a line on the neighbors yard. In effect for your situation it's the same however - if you end up killing the tree the owner may be entitled to damages related to the value of the tree.

I would check in with your arborist if trimming the limbs to that extent would end up killing the tree. You'd have to check your local laws, but in most situations you have the right to trim any trees that are encroaching over the property line, but if you end up killing the three that will make you liable for damages. Whether the fact that the tree is invasive plays into the value damages depends on your jurisdictions laws. The arborist might be a good person to start asking these questions, but of course consult a lawyer.
posted by Karaage at 5:07 AM on May 2, 2016

posted by exogenous at 5:21 AM on May 2, 2016

This is probably a bad idea from a couple of directions. First, Mass General Law has not been kind to abutters who have taken action on this--you've probably done the reading, but the most recent case I've seen is a 2014 decision which established "it is necessary that the self-help rights given to parties in this situation be more restrictive. Otherwise, the party wishing to remove the tree would essentially have absolute power over the tree, by being able to cut the tree to the point of death, leaving the party wishing to keep the tree helpless. Moreover, even if Plaintiff were allowed to do what she wished with her half of Tree B, regardless of the impact on the tree as a whole, this would not give her the right to take down [defendant's] half of the tree, even under the broader powers of self-help." IANAL, and YAAL, so I'll leave it to your discretion, but my condo association was, erm, strongly discouraged from pursuing unilateral action when we consulted legal counsel about a similar problem a couple of years ago.

It's not likely to end up in court, of course, but I'm having some trouble figuring out why you would START with the nuclear option. Have you not spoken to the neighbor about this? They're probably willing to meet you halfway, and at least entertain options for removing as much of the overhang as is possible without killing the trees. (Or you could get creative and do something like offer to split the costs of taking them down AND replanting smaller, less invasive species) If they do indeed turn out to be unreasonable monsters, you still have an option that won't nuke the site from orbit: whoever holds the master insurance policy for their house (which would be the liable party for any tree limb damage) would probably listen to an anonymous call, and given the choice between higher insurance rates and working something out, you might make some headway.
posted by Mayor West at 6:21 AM on May 2, 2016

The guy is cranky about trees because tree work is very expensive and he's a cheapskate. My neighbor is the same - she has the money, she'd just rather spend it on something else. The township forced her to act because the tree was hazardous - it had a big split.

You're offering to pay 100% of the cost to remove the tree that's bugging you. Ring his bell and tell him that. The other neighbors had a bad experience because they wanted him to act like a responsible homeowner and pay for the problem or at least contribute.
posted by fixedgear at 6:54 AM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is a serious suggestion - I suggest you post at reddit's legal advice forum. They LOOOVE tree cases.
posted by bq at 8:28 AM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd get a quote from a couple of arborists, then approach the neighbor and offer to pay for the trees being taken down. While you're getting a quote from the arborists ask them what they can do if the neighbor demurs.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2016

Late followup to exogenous' previously--my jerk neighbor moved out, and the new folks had extensive tree work done in their yard, including taking out the branches I wanted gone, and also including removing several branches from MY tree growing into their yard (for which they did ask permission).

All the arborists I've spoken with and have heard about will not operate on a neighbor's tree without permission, even if the law is absolutely clear--they don't want to get involved in lawsuits, even if they will almost certainly win.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:34 AM on May 2, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, all--some good stuff here. The interesting wrinkle, I think, is that the tree is invasive, which arguably goes to the measure of damages, which can be up to treble the value of tree cut down. What is the value of a banned tree? Zero? The value of a comparable non-invasive tree? Obviously, though, I'm not wildcat cutting his tree, invasive or not, so I'll work it out with him and the town. I'd take judicious pruning if I can get it. And being banned doesn't just give you a right to cut all your neighbor's trees.

Surprisingly, the guy is not a cheapskate--my one conversation with him touched on the many thousands of dollars he poured in to saving a doomed tree in his front yard. He is loves trees like an Ent.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:51 PM on May 2, 2016

If he loves trees, he certainly doesn't want them topped, which is what you'll be forced to do if you abide by the boundary line.

Tell him that you're concerned for the health of the trees, and that you'd rather have them pruned, instead of topped, and ask if that's ok. Mention that the one tree will have to come out entirely. Perhaps talking about preserving the health and aesthetic value of the current trees is something that he will see as favorable?

Expect to pay for it all by yourself. Tree removal is expensive, but it might be easier to just suck up the cost so you don't have an aggravated neighbor.
posted by Ostara at 3:35 PM on May 2, 2016

As someone who deals with trees and how the public responds to them: people are really attached to trees in ways that they're not attached to many other things. If he's attached to his trees, this could actually turn into a much larger issue than you want to handle. I'll reiterate: people feel strongly about trees.

Norway maples are indeed invasive and kind of horrible trees and while it sounds like your city prohibits the planting of them, I doubt that they demand that they be removed from private property.

I hope you're able to get rid of the tree but I'm really not optimistic about it happening without a fight.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:54 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

If the guy loves his trees, you're going to have a hard time getting him to go along with a reduction in their number. You may get farther with him if you offer not just to remove the nuisance tree (or trees), but to replace it (them) with native species as a token of goodwill. You'll have a problem if he doesn't want to replace everything though, since the Norway maple is pretty aggressive about crowding out everything in its path. And replacing mature (but invasive) trees with younger transplants is going to affect the shade he's used to, at least for a few years.

I feel your pain. There's a hideous Norway maple in front of our house, between the sidewalk and the street, which is the responsibility of the city. We reported it as unhealthy, but instead of removing it the city's tree contractors aggressively topped it (to this day I don't know what they thought they were doing). Now it's invasive, half dead, and ugly and lopsided to boot. Apparently we'll be stuck with the thing until it finishes dying. The especially sad thing is that they just replanted a bunch of tree boxes on our block, but since this tree hadn't been removed they didn't replace it with a more attractive native. They probably won't replant our block for another five or ten years.
posted by fedward at 12:19 PM on May 3, 2016

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