What are our rights concerning a jeighbor’s destructive trimming of plants onour property?

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What are our rights concerning a jeighbor’s destructive trimming of plants onour property?

My single dwelling domestic property is separated on 1side from my neighbor (a church ) by a chainlink fence running the full distance of 150 feet. Parallell to this, 1 1/2 feet from the fence into my property, runs a parallel cedar fence that we had erected for privacy purposes. In the “alley” of about 18 inches wide, we planted when we moved in 8 years ago ,12 decorative flowering jasmin vines at regular intervals along the full distance of the timber fence. Through the years, the church has vigorously trimmed any vine protruding to their side of the chainlink fence. Although they usually cut the jasmin without horticultural skill, we have had to acknowledge their right to do so, even when it harmed our plants indirectly. However, when they started to reach into our property to trim our vines that were well within the “alley”on our side of the chainlink, we informally confronted, a small group of what appeared to be members of the church management (when they paused in front of our house). We expressed our concern that they had reached into our property and damaged our plants. The small group included their pastor, who acted as though he could not understand the issue, or the English language, with some of his assistants shielding him from our inquiry about the rationale for their unacceptable actions. There were vague promises that the unidentified church member responsible would be told not to do it again. We have tried to be accommodating of their lack of horticultural respect, the high levels of noise and children clambering over the fence without permission into our yard to recover balls they have kicked over. Yesterday when we were at work the church management/groundmen went particularly far, unlawfully so, to establish their disapproval of our flowering jasmin vines. When we got home, all the jasmin, which had grown over 8 or 9feet over the years, had been cut off at the roots, and all the foliage apparently carted away. Our foliage-rich alley that had been filled with abundant jasmin vine was stripped bare, and the vines covering the timber fence and adding greatly to our property’s aesthetic appeal had been cut off from their base. Ours is an exceptional and landscaped property, and we have labored for about 7 years to turn it into the pride of the street and the neighborhood. My wife and I strongly consider: 1) claiming damages for this unlawful and malicious destruction of property; 2) laying a complaint of unlawful trespassing, and; 3 investigating some kind of interdict to prevent the church to repeat their actions. What instruments for restitution, and future restraint are appropriate?

Asked on April 20, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Oregon

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Assuming that the roots were on your side of the property line, then the church had no rights to cut the plants off at the roots. You could potentially look to bring charges for tresspass and/or destruction of your property (e.g. vandalism); you could sue them for the value of the plants--e.g. what it would cost to replant plants of approximately the same maturity and growth; and/or for an order (an "injunction") to not do this in the future. If the plants were on your side but damaged or protruded onto church property, the church could have sought recourse of its own--e.g. a court order or damages--but could not take it into its own hands to destroy the plants.

On the other hand, if the plants were rooted on land that was the church's, then they may well have been able to cut them off at the roots.

Very possibly, what you want to do is to bring a legal action seeking a declaratory judgment (i.e. a court adjudication where the property line is and where you can plant; also the degree to which, if any, said plants can protrude onto church property) and also (based on the assumption you will get a favorable judgment) claims for compensation (a/k/a "damages") and for an injunction barring future action like this. You should consult  with an attorney to discuss the matter in detail and explore the options and costs.


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