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Question DetailsAsked on 1/29/2017

my neighbors dead tree has limbs that are breaking off and destroying my roof and cars and property.

My neighbor has a dead tree. For two years now I have asked him to remove it. He refuses. Now all the branches are falling on my roof causing the shingles to pop up and my cars getting dented. not to mention my driveway is destroyed. What can I do?! He knows it is dead! He is just waiting for it to fall onto my house, not his. Contact the City? An attorney?

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Below are links to a couple of similar previous questions with answers FYI - though specifics on liability depend on state laws, which vary pretty widely in different areas.

Note you say yuou have asked him for two years to cut the tree - but if you do not have proof of this that you could take to court, that is meaningless.

Generally (and of course you would need to do some research of the laws or talk to an attorney for your area's specific laws and land use regulations) - if you do not notify him (and document in writing with you keeping a copy and mailing receipts, sent certified mail return receipt, signature required) of the hazard and specifically demand that he abate the hazard (remove the tree in this case), then (in probably most states - there are exceptions) branches falling which break off on your side of the property line may be your responsibility - and generally (but not everywhere) you can cut those back to the property line protectively or for your convenience, though at your cost. If it breaks on his side of the line and damages your property, generally (again, not everywhere) he would be liable for the damages, though in some areas that is considered what trees do naturally so is considered an "act of god" the same as leaves falling from hjis trees in your yard. In some areas the definition of "ownership" and responsibility for a broken branch is based on where the trunk is, not where the branch breaks - so if the tree trunk is totally on his side of the line it might be his responsibility regardless of where the branch breaks off - sometimes regardless, sometimes only if you advised him of the hazard and demanded abatement (removal).

If the trunk is growing out of the ground (and defining where the division between "trunk" and "roots" which are above ground can be difficult at times too) on the property line, then generally this is a common property item, maintenance is a joint responsibility, and each party has to share equally in the cost of needed and necessary (including preventative) maintenance - though might take going to court to get him to pay his half. And generally, you have to arrange jointly for the work and agree to the scope in advance of doing the work - except in an "emergency" - like tree starts leaning over and is about to fall - you cannot just get the work done and then bill him. Also, generally does not work for him to say he will pay half to you if you get it done - no way to recoer the money after the fact. Safe way to handle that is for the tree service to issue a firm quote for the work as being paid half by each property owner, and each property owner signs accepting the bid AND pays the tree service BEFORE they start work - because if you wait till after and he does not pay his half, the tree service can still come after you for the other half of the shared liability unless the service order SPECIFICALLY states each party's responsibility for payment is limited to half. Few tree services will do that unless payment is made up front - and a smart one will demand it in case or by check and actually deposit the check before starting work, to be sure they get paid, because this sort of antagonistic situation catches them in the middle all too often.

Assuming this tree is trunked totally on his property (though roots might well extend under the ground into yours), some cities will cite a hazard like that and issue an abatement order to the property owner. In most others, you need to treat it as a civil action - for which your certified demand letter might work, an attorney's letterhead demand letter (commonly $150-250 fee) generally gets more action, or you might have to sue to have the imminent hazard abated - meaning you would need proof of it being a hazard, probably a written statement from a licensed arborist, and a court order for it to be removed. [And no - there is no Angies List category for attorneys - apparently based on something about them not wanting to swim with sharks and risk getting sued by attorneys who get bad ratings].

Depending on the law (or case law more likely) in your area regarding falling branches (which commonly depends on where the trunk is relative to the property line) you would also have the option of filing a claim with HIS insurance company. IF you filed a claim with yours, even if they get him orhis company to pay the damages each time it happens, it will still be considered a claim against YOUR policy and YOUR rates are likely to go up as well as a result. However, if does take most of the burden off you and means the insurance company will pay the legal costs and such - but only for actual damage claims, VERY rarely for preventative abatement action, though I have seen it in very rare cases.

You said your driveway is destroyed - unless breaking up from massive branches falling on it, I would suspect that is from roots - which are generally your problem. There are a fair number of previous questions dealing with invading roots from neighboring trees in the Lawn and Garden - Tree Service link under Browse Projects, at lower left - discussing your normal right to cut them on your property, but with provisions that if doing so endangers the life or stability of the tree you generally have to give advance notice to the tree owner to give them an opportunity to abate the situation first (usually by cutting the tree back or down).

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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