We’ve Talked A Lot About Branches But What About The Roots?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Erin

“Dear PoPville,

I have a rowhouse and my neighbor has a large tree with roots that are pushing up my patio, but it’s unclear whether or not they are damaging the foundation of my house. The tree also has branches that cover a large portion of my backyard and part of my house. Has anyone else been in a similar situation and if so, how did you handle it? The damage to the patio is an easy fix, but I’m concerned about the potential of significant damage to the house itself.”

Ed. Note: We’ve recently spoken about branches but I don’t think we’ve ever discussed a root situation like this.

14 Comment

  • Basement floods? Cracks in the foundation? If no, then roots aren’t doing any damage. Relay the patio if it’s uneven. Relay in 10-20 years after further growth. Or cut the roots on your side of the property. Depending on the species of tree, it’s age and the soil composition this may or may not kill the tree. If you kill the tree you might create or more dangerous condition to your property. Wing and do it cheap yourself. Or call an arborist instead of a blog.

    • I wouldn’t cut the roots without consulting an arborist because doing so might destabilize the tree and send it crashing down on your house during some future storm. Also, DC forbids cutting down most “special trees,” defined as 55″ or greater in diameter. I’m not sure if cutting such a tree’s roots, and thus causing mortal damage, would run afoul of this law, but you may want to find out.

      • this was directed at OP, not crin, whom I was basically agreeing with.

      • You probably know this and just misspoke, but in case it’s not clear: special trees are 55″ or greater in circumference, not diameter.

        • I was able to forgo the “Special Tree” fee’s associated with the the removal (it was going to be close to $4000 just for the permit if I didn’t get an exemption) as it was causing damage to my retaining wall. However, I had to get a structural engineer to provide a report of the damage caused by the pressure of the tree roots.

  • I believe, again, that it is on your property, therefore it is your problem. You can cut the roots if you’d like, so long as they are on your side of the property.

    This is happening with me and my neighbor. I have a big tree in my front yard and the roots grow onto his property and are causing his walk way to buck up a bit. He asked if it was ok with me if he had the roots cut so he could fix the walkway. I figured it was his property, he could do what he liked.

  • Maybe get a structural engineer in to assess whether the roots could be damaging the house itself?

  • Decent band. Older stuff was better.

  • There are no US federal or state laws that specifically address root trespass, but there is case law. Them executive summary is that one can cut them at the property line. If doing so would dangerously destabilize or kill the tree (according to an expert opinion, from an arborist), one can compel the tree owner to a specific action, such as removing the tree.

    (This is why in most other countries one can’t plant a tree on a tiny lot that will eventually cause such problems. Let’s call the the “not every tree is sacred” doctrine.)

  • As in all person to person conflict or a project in common: the best initial course is to try to work it out with your neighbor. First, describe your current (or pending: possible damage to your structure) problem and show them the issue. Ask them if they would like to hire an arborist to determine a solution, and then ask them if you could cut the roots — and continue to cut the roots – from a certain point at your property line. Good luck.

  • Ally

    Our neighbor nicely asked us to remove a tree or two that were beginning to cause root damage to her driveway. Not sure what the law is, but in the interest of having a happy neighbor, we removed the trees and paid for 100% of it ourselves. My mother has had similar issues with a neighbor (in this case, neighbor’s trees were threatening her home if they feel during hurricane season…this was Florida); in that case, they decided to split the cost.

    Personally, if you’re asking to have them removed, I think it’s nice to offer to split the cost (my neighbor didn’t).

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