There’s a real sadness that comes with realizing a tree that has shaded and beautified your property for many years is infected, infested, or otherwise at risk of crashing down. Most homeowners and commercial property owners take a proactive approach to dying or sickly trees by cutting them down as soon as it becomes obvious they are compromised.

However, this can become a very difficult process if the tree that is threatening your property has its trunk or roots on your neighbor’s property. Many previously positive relationships between neighbors have been soured or destroyed by disputes about trees. Read on for important insights into how to handle the issue without causing a neighborhood feud.

Try Talking It Out First

Regardless of what kind of relationship you have with your neighbors, whether they are your Friday night poker buddies or someone you avoid like the plague, when you’ve determined that a tree that is placing your property at risk for damage is on their property, your best option is to sit down and discuss the issue thoroughly.

Hopefully, if you are able to keep calm and make a clear case about the potential danger that the tree presents to your property, your neighbor will understand and agree to take reasonable action, including removing the branches that grow over your property or the entire tree. If they don’t agree, it’s time to explore other options.

Consider Trimming Just the Offending Branches

You are allowed, under law, to trim any branches that cross the property line, particularly if they are dead or threatening your property. Doing it without the owner’s permission can be a legally and financially risky proposition. You need to be very careful here. Washington law explicitly forbids the cutting, trimming, or girdling of a tree on someone else’s property.

Moreover, the law clearly states that the owner of the property can sue the person who cut or damaged the tree for three times the actual financial amount of damages. Given that mature hardwood trees can add $5,000 or more to a home’s value, this is not a risk to take lightly.

Bring in the Professionals

If your neighbor won’t settle the issue with you directly, you don’t want to risk trimming without his or her permission, and the tree is dying, dead, or otherwise compromised, it’s time to take real action.

As noted above, a healthy, mature deciduous tree can add thousands of dollars to a home’s value. However, an eyesore next door can lower a home’s value substantially. Get an estimate from a tree service, like WA Tree Experts, about how much removing or trimming the tree would cost, as well as a quote from a Realtor about the impact the tree is having on your properties. Those figures could motivate your neighbor to trim or remove the tree in question.

Show Your Neighbor the Liability They’re Incurring

Your neighbor may not understand that he or she could be held financially and even criminally liable if the tree damages your home or, in a nightmare scenario, results in the death of or injury to a person or companion animal on your property. From broken windshields and smashed vehicles to broken bones, broken windows, and a structurally compromised roof, there is a lot of potential for incredibly expensive damage when a tree isn’t being properly maintained.

Your neighbor, who not only owns the tree but has been made aware of its compromised state, may be motivated financially when he or she was not motivated by the desire to be a good neighbor.

Professional Analysis and Letters Can Help

If your neighbor won’t speak with you directly about this risk, or you worry that he or she hasn’t been taking your comments and concerns about property damage seriously, you may wish to speak with an attorney or insurance adjuster who can provide a letter stating the obvious: The risk of the tree or branch falling outweighs whatever benefits the neighbor’s refusal to remove it has created.

Seeing a licensed professional’s signature on a certified letter notifying the neighbor of what liability may be incurred (particularly if that letter is from your neighbor’s homeowners’ insurance company), could incentivize him or her to finally take the necessary steps to address the issues presented by the compromised tree.

Consider Hiring an Attorney as a Last Resort

If your neighbor staunchly refuses to trim or remove a dead or dying tree that poses a threat to your property, and nothing else has worked, you should hire an attorney and work with this professional to resolve the issue.

From contacting the owner’s insurance company (who likely won’t be pleased about this unnecessary risk and may threaten to revoke the policy or increase the premium substantially) to going to court to seek legal aid, there are a number of options available. While suing your neighbor won’t make for a great block party next summer, it could protect your family and home from severe damages in the future.

Featured photo source: