News and Blog Articles
News and Blog Articles
Tree ownership sounds like a fairly clear-cut concept. If the tree is on your property, it’s yours, and if it’s not on your property, then it’s not yours. But what if the tree sits half on your property, and half on your neighbor’s? Or what if it’s on your neighbor’s side of the property line, but its branches stretch over onto your land?
Even worse, what happens when a tree falls down and causes damage? If it wasn’t your tree, are you still liable for the hole in your roof?
Let’s walk through the possible scenarios:
A tree growing entirely on your property is unequivocally yours. If you want to cut it down, prune it, or otherwise tend to it, then you don’t need anyone’s permission but your own.
A tree that grows on your property but has branches overhanging your neighbor’s property is a little more complicated. The branches that overhang onto your neighbor’s land technically belong to your neighbor, which means you both have legal claim to the tree.
A tree whose trunk sits partly on your property and partly on your neighbor’s property belongs to both parties. If any percentage of the trunk sits across the property line, then tree ownership essentially splits 50/50.
How does this affect the tree work I want done?
If you’re looking to cut down or trim a tree that fits scenario 1, then you’re good to go! It’s your tree, and you can do what you’d like with it.
If you want to do work on a tree that’s scenario 2, it depends on the work. If you want to trim some branches on your side of the property line, then you don’t technically need to confer with your neighbor – though here at Classic City Arborists, we would encourage you to do so, just to prevent any conflict later on.
However, if you have a tree that fits scenario 2 and you want to trim the branches that overhang your neighbor’s property, or you want to remove the tree entirely, you will likely need to talk to your neighbor to get their permission. Not all arborists or tree companies will require this, but here at Classic City Arborists, we would need your neighbor to sign a waiver granting us permission to work on the tree, since it does overhang their property. This helps prevent legal ramifications for both us and you.
If your tree fits scenario 3, then no matter what work you want done on it, you should definitely talk to your neighbor, because the entire tree partially belongs to them, not just a few branches. At Classic City Arborists, we’d need them to sign a waiver, though again, not all tree companies will require this.
What happens when a tree falls and causes damage?
Trees can get pretty big, and as they say – the larger they are, the harder they fall. Whether due to internal rot, infestation, or inclement weather, tree failure (and the subsequent damage) is an unfortunate reality.
In the State of Georgia, any damage caused by a fallen tree is the responsibility of whoever owns the land the tree fell on, with a few exceptions. This means that, in most cases, if a tree falls on your property and damages your home or your vehicle, it doesn’t matter where it was growing; you’re liable for the damage. On the other hand, if one of your trees falls and damages your neighbor’s home, since it fell on their property, the damage would be their responsibility, not yours.
This also means that, if a tree falls partially on your property and partially on your neighbors, then each of you would be responsible for the part of the tree and the damage on your own property. Say your neighbor’s tree fell across their fence and your shed. Your neighbor would be responsible for fixing their own fence, and you would be responsible for fixing your own shed.
In a situation like this, we would recommend working together with your neighbor to hire a single arborist to complete the work, and have them split the cost between the two of you. Doing all the work at once will likely be cheaper than if you both hire separate companies to do only part of the work.
The Exception to the Rule
There is one notable exception to the rule of responsibility: if the tree in question showed signs of failure prior to falling, and the tree owner was both aware of these signs and did nothing about it, the situation becomes a case of negligence, and the liability for the damage falls to the tree owner.
For example, say a Certified Arborist came out and told you that your tree was rotting and may fall, and wrote you a quote for removing it, but you didn’t choose to have that work done. Then, the tree falls and damages your neighbor’s property, be it their land, home, car, etc. Since you were aware of the danger and did nothing, the damage becomes your responsibility.
This exception is hard to prove, however, as you need evidence. While your neighbor may have a picture of the obviously sick tree before it fell, it can be difficult to prove that you knew about this sickness. Typically, you would need evidence in writing to prove negligence.
So, if there’s a tree near your home but not on your property that you’re worried about, it’s always a good idea to get a Certified Arborist to evaluate it, and then present that evaluation in writing to the tree’s owner. If they choose to do nothing about it, and the tree later falls and damages your property, you’ll have the evidence you need to hold them accountable.
Similarly, if a Certified Arborist tells you one of your trees is at a high risk for failure, and that tree is near any structures (be they your own or someone else’s), it’s in your best interest to have it taken care of as soon as possible to prevent liability for damage to another’s property.
Emily Casuccio is sister and sister-in-law to Rebekah and Scott Rushing, and has over half a decade of experience in copywriting, copyediting, proofreading, and developmental storyboarding. She's worked with both published and undiscovered authors on both fiction and nonfiction, and takes pride in supporting local businesses. Her passion lies in the written word and helping authors of all capacities realize their dreams and achieve their fullest potential. To learn more about her, read samples of her work, or contact her, visit her online portfolio.