An individual may be held legally responsible for cutting down a shared tree. For example, if your neighbor cuts down a tree that sits on the boundary line between your properties, then you may be able to sue them for damages if you can prove that you were both owners of the tree in question and that they failed to obtain your consent before cutting down the shared tree.

When a tree is located on the boundary line between two sets of properties, it is known as a “boundary tree.” In general, a tree that is considered a boundary tree is deemed to belong to both property owners whose borders the tree sits upon. This means that both property owners will be responsible for taking care of and maintaining the boundary tree. 

It also means that any decisions regarding the boundary tree, such as the decision to remove or destroy it, must be made and consented to by both property owners. Accordingly, if only one of the neighbors gives permission to remove it and the other refuses to do so, then the parties will need to seek the help of a court. 

A court may intervene to decide what the best course of action is and whether one of the neighbors is more entitled to their request (e.g., removing or keeping the boundary tree). For instance, if the tree poses a serious threat or danger to one of the neighbor’s property, then the court may issue an order to have the tree removed. 

On the other hand, if there are no laws or conditions that would require the boundary tree to be removed, then the court will likely issue an injunction to prohibit the tree from being removed by one of the neighbors.

Thus, it is important to remember to discuss the maintenance and/or removal of a boundary tree with a neighbor before taking any further action. Neighbors who do not obtain consent from one another before removing or destroying a boundary tree may face serious legal consequences, such as having to pay thousands of dollars in monetary damages to their next-door neighbor.

What if the Roots or Branches Are Damaged?

As previously mentioned, the laws regarding legal liability for damaged boundary trees will vary in accordance with state laws and local ordinances. In general, a boundary tree is considered to belong to both sets of property owners. Thus, neither owner may destroy or damage the tree without each other’s consent to do so. 

If the roots or branches of a shared tree are damaged, then it will be up to both owners to decide how to deal with the issue. In some cases, the roots or branches of a boundary tree will lean towards one neighbor’s property more than the other. That neighbor is permitted to trim those parts of the tree that sit within their property line. However, if the trimming of roots or branches causes harm to the entire tree, then they may be held liable for monetary damages.

The only exception to this scenario would be if the tree, tree roots, or its branches pose a serious danger or health hazard to the surrounding properties. 

What Type of Damages Can I Collect from My Neighbor?

The most common type of remedy that a person can collect from a neighbor who destroyed a shared tree is a monetary damages award. Although the amount of damages that a person can collect for a destroyed shared tree will vary from state to state, the general value of a destroyed shared tree ranges from anywhere between $500 to up to $2,500, plus treble damages. 

Depending on the jurisdiction and the facts of a particular case, a court may also calculate damages by subtracting the fair market value of a person’s land after the tree was destroyed from the fair market value of the land immediately before the tree was destroyed. This method can help provide a rough estimate of the value of the boundary line tree. 

Additionally, a court may also issue an order to repair or restore the tree in question if it would be feasible. For instance, if it was a relatively young tree, then it would be possible to give this type of court order. On the other hand, if the tree was older, then the court will likely opt to calculate damages by using the method discussed directly above (i.e., figuring out the amount that the property value decreased).

 Lastly, a court may also award monetary damages for any emotional harm that was inflicted on a party in connection with the destruction of the shared tree. The court will likely require proof of that emotional harm, such as medical bills for receiving treatment from a psychiatrist. In extreme cases, the court may award punitive damages as well. 

Can I Prevent a Neighbor from Cutting Down Shared Trees?

An individual may be able to prevent their neighbor from cutting down a shared tree in certain situations. In order to determine whether this will be possible, an individual should consult the laws in their local jurisdiction concerning tree and neighbor disputes. 

An individual should also hire a real estate lawyer for further advice on the matter. A real estate lawyer will be able to inform the individual about their legal rights and whether they have a viable argument to prevent the neighbor from chopping down their shared tree. 

If the law is on the individual’s side and a lawyer determines that the individual does in fact have a viable argument against their neighbor, then the next step would be to file an injunction with a court that oversees such matters in their jurisdiction. Briefly, an injunction is a court order that either prevents a party from continuing a specific action or forces them to take a certain action. In this case, the injunction would be used to stop the neighbor from chopping down a shared tree.

Although obtaining an injunction in these types of cases is notoriously hard to do, courts have been known to issue them and thus have prevented neighbors from cutting down, destroying, or injuring a series of shared trees. This is especially true in cases where a tree provided another purpose for the individual seeking the injunction, such as the tree was used to shelter their property from external elements like the wind.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Keep a Neighbor from Cutting Down Shared Trees?

Disputes between neighbors over shared trees can present complex legal issues. Thus, if your neighbor is attempting to cut down a shared tree, then you may want to consider hiring a local real estate lawyer for further legal guidance. An experienced real estate lawyer will be able to advise you on your legal rights and protections when it comes to disputes over property lines and shared trees. 

Your lawyer can also assist you with taking the proper legal steps to prevent your neighbor from chopping down your shared tree and can make sure that the law is on your side before you file a petition for an injunction.

Additionally, if your neighbor has already cut down or destroyed the shared tree, then your lawyer can perform legal research to find out whether there are any potential remedies available that you may be able to recover. Alternatively, if you are the party responsible for destroying the tree, then your lawyer can ensure that your interests are well-represented in court.