From the Forum – Neighbor’s extremely huge tree dangerously hangs over my home

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Ed. Note: We had a similar discussion here, but these circumstances are a bit different.

Neighbor’s extremely huge tree dangerously hangs over my home

“Any suggestions for how to deal with the Adult Children of a deceased neighbor who inherited the home that has a huge oak tree (over 100 years old) with very heavy limbs that hang over my house. No one lives in the home since the mom died almost 2 years ago. The limbs sound like boulders when they drop on our roof during high winds and storms. We have notified the heirs via certified letter and numerous emails and phone calls of damages already caused by the tree, and the risk of it falling on our home. Over the years, the tree roots have been growing under my house causing damages to pipes that we had to replace, in addition to the cost of a new roof and gutters, and the cost of lawn care services resulting from the fallen leaves and tree limbs. Their response is that they are trying to come up with a payment plan to have work done on the house so they can rent it out. It has been nearly 2 years and still no action. We also offered to pay part of the cost for removing the tree, still no action.
We really didn’t want to take them to court because we wanted to settle it amicably but feel we have no choice. Does anyone know of case law that can be used and what kind of attorney would handle this case. Other suggestions are also welcomed.”

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26 Comment

  • jim_ed

    I have no idea if they could do anything, but have you placed a call to the Dept of Urban Forestry? Maybe they or DCRA can trim it and bill the property owners, like they do for overgrown or trashfilled yards?

  • I believe you have to right to chop anything off that hangs over your property.

    • Not a lawyer, but this is my understanding as well. We had large damaged limbs hanging from a neighbor’s tree over our alley parking spot, and we were getting nowhere with the absent owners of the house next door. We hired a tree trimmer to take out all the limbs over the property line — it was a hell of a lot cheaper than the repair work one of them would have incurred had it fallen on our car.

      • I believe that this is true AS LONG AS you don’t damage the tree beyond normal pruning. I would think it’s worth it to get a professional appraisal on the health, and then get your portion trimmed back as far as can be done without jeopardizing the overall health of the tree.

  • Maybe call your home insurance company? They’ve got an interest in making sure that limbs don’t fall through your roof. Their agents may be able to communicate more convincingly and authoritatively than a homeowner.

  • if the tree limbs are stretching onto your property line, its up to you to trim them up to the property line.

  • I believe you are free to trim any part of the tree that hangs over your property. You cannot cross the property line to cut the tree without going to court and proving it is some sort of hazard.

  • As was outlined in the previous topic on this there is nothing preventing you from hiring a tree company to trim the branches that are hang over your property line; that is within your right as a homeowner. There is also no legal justification for the neighbors to pay for that, so it would be on your dime. Unfortunately, this is one of those circumstances where doing nothing (branch falls on your roof eventually) or trying to get the owners to do something (lawsuit) could cost you far more than just paying for the work yourself. And the roots just have to be dealt with, there is no provision to force the removal of a tree due to root intrusion, just as there is no provision to force the removal of a tree due to branches hanging over the property line. This all changes if you can get a certified arborist on record stating that the tree is diseased and in imminent danger of falling down. There is a clearer legal route to forcing action if that can be determined and presented to the owners, but that only helps you if the tree ends up doing major damage to your property and you can sue on the grounds that they were neglectful. So, AGAIN, just pay for the tree trimming and chalk it up to the cost of home maintenance.

  • As other have stated you can trim any part of the tree that hangs on your property.
    If the house has been vacant for two years you should also call DCRA to get it declared vacant.

  • You can trim the parts that are on your property.
    Given the described size of the tree the permit to cut it down would likely be costly unless you can prove the tree is somehow damaged (“special” tree removal is subject to a fee of $35/inch of circumference). I’d expect a 100+ year old oak to cost you more than $2000 in permitting before you get to the cost of removing it.

    Maybe call Casey Trees and see if they can recommend a company to help with this. I don’t think going to court is going to do you any good in this situation. In particular I would avoid references to the cost of leaf removal, because that just seems overly petty (or maybe I’m just too accustomed to removing all manner of leaves from my property from street trees and neighbor’s trees and I would never think to ask someone else to pay for it because on balance, trees are good).

  • Check (Real Property Tax Assessment) and see if it is being taxed at a vacant rate ($5/$100 assessed value versus $0.85/$100 assessed value). If their taxes skyrocket they might move quicker on unloading it.

    • OP indicates that the owners are working on fixing up the house to rent it out. So while you are correct that they may be missing out on a significant tax burden, sticking it to them on that is not likely to result in the OP’s desired solution of the owners sucking it up and cutting down the tree. (As they will have even less money to work with once they are paying taxes at the assumed higher rate).

      • And if they are actively working on the house they can fairly easily bypass the vacant rate. The city is doing *much* better at cracking down on this, but it’s still way to easy to get an exception (file periodic permits for minor things to show “progress”).

      • janie4

        I’d be skeptical of fixing it up claim. From what the OP said, after two years of sitting vacant they’re working on “a payment plan” to do the work to rent it out. Two years is a long time. It sounds like none of the adult kids have enough money to fix it up, and no one wants to take out or can afford a loan to fix it up. So it will sit.

        I do think it’s the OP’s job to take the branches down themselves.

        • Oh sure. But my main point is that putting them in a situation to pay additional fines/penalties is unlikely to have the desired result of them spending at least a few thousand dollars to get rid of the tree.

  • Trimming the portion of the tree that hangs over your property can be done as a matter of right. But if the amount of trimming that needs to be done on your side of the property makes the tree unstable (and in this case, it sounds like a lot of trimming will be required) and the tree crashes into their house in the next big storm because it’s not balanced anymore, guess who will be on the hook for that.
    And trimming the tree doesn’t solve the problem with the roots growing under your house.

    The neighbors’ stated plan is not to fix the tree problem, it’s to rent out the house. That is where they are directing their resources. And they don’t appear to have enough resources to make the house rentable. If they are struggling for a way to pay a contractor now, they will probably be struggling to keep paying the contractor once work begins. Which means it will be God knows when (if ever) that the house is in a position to generate revenue. And do you think paying for tree removal is going to be at the top of the list of things to spend that revenue on?
    It’s been two years already. This is the rare post in which the person threatening litigation really has done pretty much everything that could/should be done to resolve the situation amicably. Take them to court.
    As far as case law, I would think this falls under nuisance and/or trespass law.

    • And I will state again it would cost this person far, FAR more to litigate this than to just take care of the issue directly. Almost any reputable tree company is going to send an arborist out to do an evaluation before scheduling the actual crew work. Request to talk to the arborist about any damage or concerns of a radical pruning, they should be able to tell you if you will be doing damage to the tree (and any qualified arborist wouldn’t sign off on that work anyway). You’re not going to get anywhere with the roots. If you really want the tree gone, offer to pay to have it removed. I bet they won’t decline that offer. For comparison a couple or years ago we had the following done for our yard: prune/elevate 4 mature trees over 40′ which included removal of some HUGE main branches to balance things out; completely remove another mature tree which was diseased and grind the stump. Total for all of this work by a reputable company was under $2K, took a crew less than a working day to do it. Unless you are a lawyer with time to spare ask how much it would cost in dollars and your personal time to litigate.

    • ah

      Anonv2 is right – the cost of having the tree cut down (especially net of trimming) will be less than the cost of litigating to get them to remove a hazardous tree.

      I understand the resentment that you will be paying for something that they (possibly) should pay for, but that’s life.

      So, I see three options
      1) continue to suffer and bang your head against the wall
      2) get the branches over your property trimmed, which doesn’t solve the root problem and not all of the danger
      3) persuade them to let you cut down the entire tree at your expense.

      If you go route 3, you will likely need a special tree removal permit from DDOT (if the trunk is >55″, i.e., about 18″ in diameter). If you do need one, I recommend hiring an arborist to make the hazard assessment because you will be able to help them understand all of hazards the tree poses. There is less ability to convey that important information to the DDOT arborist, who has an incentive to find the tree not to be hazardous and thus require you to pay a significant amount of money for the permit. The money for the arborist (~$300) is much less than the money for the permit (~$3000+)

  • My two cents:
    Get permission from the owners to have an arborist come out and assess the tree (to avoid problems with trespass).
    If the arborist finds the tree to be unstable, approach the the owners about having it removed, maybe going halfsies, and strongly emphasizing that litigation is a possibility if you’re not allowed to remove the tree.

    • ^ this is a very detailed and reasonable approach. For whatever it’s worth, consider that comment seconded.

  • Huh? Unless the tree is dead you can’t do anything. Leave the tree alone.

  • Where is this house located? If it has been vacant for two years the DCRA classifies the property as vacant and then charges the owners class3 taxes which is about 5 times the regular real property ta rate. That might get them going.

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