Can You Cut Down Your Neighbor’s Trees?

A continuing source of disputes between adjoining property owners revolves around trees and vegetation along the property line.  In a recent case in Cuyahoga County one owner sued the adjacent owner for negligence, nuisance and trespass claiming that the neighbor’s trees encroach on his property depositing leaves, debris and sap causing damage to his property.  The trial court denied any relief and the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court.  With regard to negligence the court noted that a landowner is generally not responsible for losses caused by the natural condition of the land.  The court noted that this does not apply to structures or objects placed on the land.  The court adopted the “Massachusetts Rule” which does not allow for the removal of offending vegetation, even in cases of actual damage, and limits property owners remedy to self-help – cutting back the vegetation to the boundary line.  The reasoning behind the rule is that if a landowner had a cause of action every time tree branches, leaves, vines and shrub, etc. encroach or fall on his property, it would spawn numerous and vexatious lawsuits.  An exception to this rule is if there is an unreasonable risk of harm to others from defective, decaying or unsound trees that the owner has actual or constructive notice.  As for trespass, the law requires an unauthorized intentional act of going on to the property of another.  Failing to remove trees or overhanging branches does not qualify as such an act.

So the moral of the story is that a landowner can trim trees and shrubs along a property, but it would be wise to get a survey to make sure that the line is correct.

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