From the Forum – What to do about neighbor’s tree?

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What to do about neighbor’s tree?

“A tree on our neighbor’s property is dangerously hovering over our roof, and we’re not sure what to do about it. The house has been converted into condos so we don’t know the owner and knocking on the door won’t really work. Should we just take care of it ourselves? Is there any way to force them to take action?

Related, does anyone have recommendations for a good tree removal service? We’re in the Brookland/Langdon area.”

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41 Comment

  • I believe as long as you do not trespass on their private property you are permitted to cut any branches that are within your airspace.

    • Take this advice. Just do it yourself. It’ll be expensive but honestly it’s just not worth the hassle.

      • “Do it yourself” may be neither easy nor safe, depending on size of the tree or branch, among other factors. If this tree is big enough to be scaring the OP, then it’s probably big enough to require professional assistance.

    • …and doing so doesn’t kill the tree (in which case they can sue you).

      It’s probably best to contact anyone you can on the property to inform them of your intent. You could also hire an arborist to provide a professional opinion that the tree is, in fact, endangering your property.

      • Youre not going to kill the tree by pruning branches. And, you dont need to call an arborist. For christsake, not every little action in your life requires an expert opinion.

        Prune the branches and move on.

        • This. x10000000!

        • Please refrain from offering advice on a topic with which you’re not familiar. Proper pruning requires a skillset that ensures the tree does not lose balance or become susceptible to infestation.

          A tree that size requires an arboricultural expert or it could create a much bigger problem.

      • This is right. As long as you don’t irreparably harm the tree (which is possible, sorry Anon X), you can use self-help.

        That being said, talk to your neighbor first, to see if they’re willing to do it. If they’re not, hire an arborist to analyze the risk to the tree, and if the arborist writes a report that shows the risk, that can help you convince them.

  • Under DC law, you have the right to prune branches overhanging your property. Needless to say, you bear the cost of removal.

  • Hopefully you get a more thorough answer from someone who has dealt with this, but in the mean time I would suggest finding out the name of the management company for the building. My parents had this issue with their neighbor in Maryland and there I believe the laws state that they are able to trim the portion of tree that hangs over the property line, but at their own expense. Good luck!

  • There was a WaPo article that addressed this during a particularly stormy summer a few years ago:
    Because any damage to your property would be your responsibility, you’re within right and reason to cut down and remove any part of the tree that’s endangering

  • I used Takoma Tree Removal last year to get a whole tree taken out of my yard and was very happy with both the service and the price. (I got quotes from two others.)

    And this isn’t quite the same, but I every summer I cut the branches off my neighbor’s tree that overhang my yard and slowly grow into the phone lines coming from the alley that criss-cross my airspace. I can’t imagine anyone telling me I couldn’t.

    • Do you mind me asking how much for the tree removal? We have four huge trees in our yard and think we may have to remove one eventually.

      • Accountering

        This is very expensive. A big tree can cost $1000 or more. It sucks.. Even if there is nothing in the way, and it is far from a house, you are looking at $500 for a full size tree.

        • Hey, that isn’t too bad! I was thinking like $2,000. A neighbor and I talked about splitting the cost so if it was $500 that wouldn’t be too bad.

          • Accountering

            If your neighbor will split it with you, you should move forward on it. The rule is pretty straight forward legally.. Your yard, your tree. If they want to chip in $500, chop that thing down!

      • I paid $675 for about a 30-35′ tree, not including the stump. Later, I had general contractors remove the stump for about $200. It was leaning against my porch and the stump was rooting up into my porch stairs. (I tried looking up the other estimates I got, but I think they were on paper only so they’re not in my email.)

        • Can you tell me who you hired to remove the stump? We’re removing the bocce court in our yard and apparently there is a huge tree trunk underneath which the previous owners were too cheap to remove. They slapped a bocce court on top instead of removing it properly.

      • I got a deal through Angie’s list and had my mimosa removed for $400.

    • Is there a reason you do this? There’s no need to keep phone lines clear of branches (or to have a phone line at all for that matter).

      • I should have said cable lines — they’re the Comcast lines coming from the telephone pole in the alley. And I’m not sure what you mean. If I let them keep growing, or if they break, they’re likely to rip the lines out eventually (or more likely, rip them from where they go into the house). It’s not a single branch, it’s a giant tree and half the thing is sitting on top of the lines. Anyway it’s not a big deal, I do it myself and it takes 10 minutes each summer.

      • No reason to have a phone line? Come on.

      • Could be cable lines, not just phone. Comcast and FIOS both use above ground alley lines in our neighborhood. Expect the tree removal to be $500-1000 depending on size and another $200-400 for stump grinding if you want that. But before you plan anything make sure your tree does not fall under the urban forestry special tree requirements. Basically, if the tree is of a certain size and not part of an exempt nuisance species and does not show any signs of disease or imminent danger of falling you can’t just have it cut down. You will have to repay the city for the loss of a mature tree which could be 3-4x the amount you would pay to have it removed. Any reputable tree company would have an certified arborist come out for an estimate; they should handle all of the paperwork if necessary as well. Second the recommendation for Takoma Tree Experts, they are reasonably priced and do good work.

        • Oh I know I have to contact the city and get approval to remove. There’s some rule about the trees providing shade too or something isn’t there? Anyhow, we have four…one of them has to be allowed to be removed. You can hear one creaking and it makes me think it’s going to come crashing down one day.

  • What Anon X said. I’ve used Ed’s Tree Service who were extremely professional and reasonably priced.

    If you’re trying to remove the tree you’ll need a special permit if the tree is over 55″ around (Measured 4.5′ from the ground). The cost of that permit is .35 per inch. (Unless it’s an invasive species, causing damage to property/structures or dead/dying – then you don’t need a permit)

    • Yes, good point about the permits. Mine was invasive so it was no issue. To be sure I just emailed a photo to Casey Trees, who identified the tree and advised that I get that thing out of my yard before it does permanent damage.

    • I meant to say $35/inch of circumference, or you can replant an equivalent circumference of saplings or a combination of both.

  • I actually just did this exact thing, and I am also in Brookland.

    The neighbor with the tree encroaching on my property the house is unoccupied…so there wasn’t really anyone to ask. I had about 10 large branches taken off a pretty large tree in the backyard, and trimmed several smaller trees and underbrush that was taking over my yard back to the neighbors property line. Also trimmed a tree in my front yard. All in all it was 700 I think. I used Matt at DCTree…he was super nice and very responsive.

  • I recently researched tree law and think you have some option. First, you should know that if your neighbor’s tree falls onto your property, you are responsible for the damages. Just as you are responsible for maintaining the limbs that are hanging over your property, you are also entitled to trim the portion hanging over your property as long as you do not kill the tree through your actions. If you think the tree is in imminent danger of falling on you house, you can notify your neighbor in writing that they need to get the tree evaluated by a tree doctor to verify it is an imminent threat. If they don’t do it and the tree falls on your house, then you can take legal action on the grounds that the owner was knowingly negligent. Here is an article on this issue in the Post:

  • It is definitely worth talking with someone at the neighboring condo board. I had an issue of a neighbor’s tree branches hanging over my property. We had a pleasant conversation about my concerns and she even offered to foot half the bill.
    I used Capitol Tree Care and they were wonderful. Very fair price, friendly and quality work.

  • knock on the door and talk to one of them. If its condos you should be able to get a hold of at least one of them. Its much more neighborly to do this rather than “forcing” them to take action.

  • Go the Dan Snyder route. Cut it down in the middle of the night and pay the small fine later. It’ll save you a lot more in the long run instead of paying for continuous pruning

  • You should contact DC Urban Forestry

    They will come out and do a tree assessment for free and can let you know the health office tree and best practices for next steps. They can probably also tell you whats required re neighbor notification, etc.

  • I don’t know about the tree issue itself, but I want to address this: “The house has been converted into condos so we don’t know the owner and knocking on the door won’t really work.” I live in a converted rowhouse, and I don’t understand this mentality. You have neighbors you can talk to. Just go over and knock or buzz on one door and explain the situation. They may have to convene a condo board meeting to discuss how to deal with it, but it isn’t like real, human beings don’t exist right next door to you. Go over, pick one of the buzzers, ring the bell, and explain your issue. It just isn’t that hard of a concept.

    We had a neighbor who was concerned about a small tree dripping on her front landing. The neighbor sent a message to the listserv with our address about our tree dripping on her property because “she couldn’t just knock on our door.” She could have knocked on any one of our doors – we are all her neighbors. In our case, one of us went over, knocked on our neighbor’s door, and asked her which tree she was concerned about. She pointed it out, and since it was a really small tree, we just sawed off the limbs she didn’t like. She easily could have just come over and asked, but instead she posted a rant to the neighborhood listserv (with our address). Now, we have each other’s email addresses and she emails when she wants something. Pretty easy.

    Note – I am not saying your asking pop a general question is the same thing as posting a rant against a personal property on a hyper local block-wide listserv, just wanted to give an example.

  • Contrary to what someone said earlier, I recommend that you do consult with an arborist or a competent tree removal service. I used Takoma Tree Experts for a similar problem. When I contacted them I asked about two options – pruning the portion of the neighbor’s tree which hung over my property, or taking down the entire tree. They advised me that even though I had a right to prune the portion of the tree over my property, the amount I would have to cut back would be so large that it would leave an unbalanced and unsightly tree in its wake (about 70% of the tree covered my property and towered over my house and yard). So the choice was either prune the entire tree at once or take the entire tree down – both of which required the owner’s permission. We ended up agreeing to take the tree down.
    I consulted with a couple of outfits. None charged me for an estimate. If you send an inquiry and your property is accessible, they can come take a look and give you an estimate without you having to be present.

  • This is a great posting – thanks everyone for their input. I had a question and am hoping someone here can shed light on it. What are you supposed to do if the offending tree hang over your property is on public land? I had a huge tree in front of my house next to the sidewalk, and after one big storm, some big branches had fallen on my front yard and stoop. Luckily there was no damage, and the offending tree has since been taken down by DC govt (apparently it was falling apart inside and a danger to pedestrians). But this posting made me wonder – what would have been my options (1) if i had noticed the possibility of potential damage beforehand (which in this case i did not), and (2) if the fallen branches had caused any serious damage to my property? Would appreciate any insights.

    • You aren’t allowed to prune public trees without a permit (I assume you’re talking about a street tree). But, just call 311 (or go to 311 online) and put a request for inspection with a note about your concern for the tree’s branches / health / whatever it is. A certified arborist from the city will inspect the tree and set up a work order or take other action as appropriate, at no cost to you. They’re good folks and do a good job of balancing safety concerns with protecting tree canopy.

      • Yep — has categories for “Tree Inspection,” “Tree Planting,” “Tree Pruning,” and “Tree Removal.”

  • I would just take care of it without asking because any legal costs will be less than a new roof / structural damage from the tree falling on your home. Sounds like the folks living there might not even know who took it down…

  • I used Takoma Tree Experts to prune a huge & bushy magnolia tree in my front yard and they were incredible. Cost was $340 and best of all I never ever saw the folks – they came and handled it while I was at work and left me the bill in the mailbox, which I handled with a follow up call. Tree was done perfectly, house no longer looks like a troll lives in it 🙂

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