We’ve all seen it happen before – our neighbor’s tree is leaning precariously over our fence (or pool, car, home, playground, or anything else that we have in our yards that is worth something to us) and they don’t seem to care too much about. We start to wonder if they have noticed and don’t care, or if they don’t ever walk around their property. These tend to be the neighbors that we don’t know that well or the ones that we never see outside. This is a problem for so many people because, a few years ago, there was a movement to grow trees in yards. Now, those trees have grown up and many of them are larger than we could ever imagine.

It is so tempting to just take a chainsaw or an axe to that tree and just do a few chops – and people have done it. They wait until the neighbor goes to work and sneak outside to make a few perilous cuts. Often, this can create a negative relationship between neighbors. Even if they didn’t particularly care about that tree, they care about you doing something to their property.

So, who was right and who has the right? Let’s take a look at what your homeowner responsibilities are when it comes to tree care:

4. Who Owns Airspace?

  • You can trim tree limbs into your yard
  • You need to be extremely careful in doing so
  • Talking to a neighbor might still be a good idea

If your neighbor has a tree that is growing over your yard, you might feel that temptation to cut it yourself. This is especially true if the tree is dangling over something important to you – or if it is poised to dump a large number of leaves on your property. So can you trim the limb of a tree that is dangling over your property? The short answer is yes, according to Find Law.

The catch is that you can only trim back as far as the property line and no further – so you must know where that line is. The law also states that you cannot do anything that will destroy or harm the tree. This means that you have to use high quality tools, proper pruning methods, and do any follow-up work that may be needed to allow the wound to heal.

The best thing to do is to talk to your neighbor before you make the cut and ensure that you are using best practices before you do any cutting.

3. Where is the Tree Trunk?

  • Trunk’s location determines who owns the tree
  • Make sure you know your property line
  • Can dispute with the county, if need be

While many of us have relationships with our neighbors that are good, there is a chance that you have an argument over just who owns a specific tree. The answer lies in where the trunk falls. The homeowner of the property where the trunk is owns the tree, according to The Balance.  You are the responsible party for making sure that any tree on your property is healthy and there are no known hazards.

If you notice that a tree is unhealthy on your property, it is your responsibility to remove the tree or treat it properly. If you do not and anything happens, you are liable for damages. If you notice that something is wrong with a tree on a neighbor’s property, you can try to talk to them about it. You can also alert the county if you cannot get into contact with that person or they don’t listen when you tell them.

Unsure where your property line is? In Jersey, some property lines are extremely strange – but the local government needs to know them for tax purposes, so they have the final say in just where that property line is.

2. What About An Act of God?

  • Tends to be much more complicated
  • Requires a thorough investigation
  • Better to avoid this altogether

A homeowner or landowner may not be responsible for damages in some cases – at least right away. This is a difficult thing to ascertain because it needs to be proven that the injury could have been prevented by reasonable diligence or ordinary care or that there was no way to predict that injury or harm could occur.

According to AgriLife at Texas A&M: “Landowners are not typically liable for “Acts of God.” An Act of God is an inevitable accident that could not have been prevented by human care, skill and foresight, but which results exclusively from nature’s cause, such as lightning, storms and floods. A landowner will not escape liability for damages caused by an unsound or defective tree located on his/her property. It is not an Act of God if it could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable diligence or ordinary care.”

This is why homeowners have a responsibility to check on their trees and care for them regularly.

1. Still Have Questions?

  • Talk to a professional
  • Reach out to neighbors
  • Avoid problems all-together

If you are still unsure about whether or not a tree is your responsibility, there are a few places you can start. You can begin with the county to see if a tree is on your property line or what the county can do about a tree that has been neglected. You can also talk to your insurance company, as they tend to have updated information about your property that you may not have.

According to Tree Care Tips, you can also talk to a tree care professional. They know the updated rules and legalities of tree ownership and can help you to determine whether or not something is yours to handle or if it is up to your neighbors.

If you happen to be looking for a tree care professional in South Jersey (for yourself or for your neighbor), give Bumblebee Tree Service a call today at (609) 297-1721. We will help you to better understand your trees and have all of the appropriate equipment to take care of any problems that pop up, including removal after a tree has died, pruning, stump removal, and more.

Header photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis on Flickr!