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RE Q&A: Who Removes a Tree That Straddles a Property Line?

A tree is directly on the property line between two homes. Owner A’s insurance company says it must come down; does owner B have any obligation to help pay for that?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: Could you please clarify the obligations of neighbors who have a tree that straddles the property line? Our insurance company is requiring that the tree come down due to liability to the house. Should our neighbor have to pay some portion of the bill to remove the tree? – Linc

Answer: When a tree straddles the property line, it creates a few thorny issues to resolve. To do so, we will need to first look at tree law in other situations.

When a tree is on your neighbor’s property, but its limbs or roots extend onto your property, you both have the right to trim them back to the property line so long as you do not damage the overall health of the tree.

You also have the responsibility to do this before it hurts your property. If your neighbor’s tree is healthy and a branch breaks off in a storm, you cannot hold your neighbor responsible, even if it falls on your roof. The law both allows and requires you to protect your property in this situation by trimming the branches back.

However, if the tree is unhealthy or dead when it falls, your neighbor will be responsible for the damage it causes. This is an incentive for him to maintain his property in a way that does not harm others.

Both parties own a tree that straddles the property line. Trimming the branches and cleaning up the fallen leaves is up to each owner on their side of the line.

Removing the tree must be agreed upon by both property owners. If one owner removes the tree without the other’s permission, they may be liable for not only the value of the tree, but for the comfort and enjoyment that the tree provided. In the landmark case on this issue, the adjoining owner was compensated for the missing shade the tree provided, along with the value of the removed tree.

In your situation, do not remove the tree without your neighbor’s written consent. To get that consent, it will probably mean that you will need to pay for the removal yourself, but that is better than getting sued.

About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.

© 2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.