Q: I have a large tree on my property close to the property line that I have been trimming for years. Some branches fall on the property line, and some in the neighbor’s yard. This has never been an issue until the neighbor installed a fence on the property line. Now the neighbor says if I damage her fence, she’ll charge me to repair it. Can she? — Steven
A: Every year around this time, I get many questions about trees, so this is an excellent time to review the basics of the law.
If your tree’s limbs or roots extend over the property line, your neighbor may trim them if doing so does not hurt the tree’s health. Your neighbor must do this before it damages their property. This is because the law not only allows a homeowner to protect their property in a situation like this, it also requires it.
If the tree is healthy and a branch or root damages a neighboring property, the neighbor is responsible for the damage it causes.
That said, if the tree is unhealthy, the responsibility for the damage will belong to the tree’s owner.
Your situation has a twist because you have taken on your neighbor’s responsibility to trim the branches on her side of the property line.
With this added responsibility, you also assume the duty to do it in a way that does not damage her property. This was easy enough to do when there was nothing expensive for the branches to fall on.
Now that your neighbor has put up a fence and put you on notice that she intends to hold you responsible if the fence is damaged, your safest course is to stop trimming the parts of the tree that extend past the property line.
Your neighbor will have to do the trimming, and if in doing so she damages her fence, the repairs will be on her dime.
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. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.