What to do about a neighbor’s trees on your property?

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What to do about a neighbor’s trees on your property?

During a hurricane several trees were downed on my neighbor’s property. They are now laying partially on his side and partially on mine (in one piece). Whose responsibility is it to remove and clean up the mess? If it is his responsibility, what is a reasonable timeframe in which he has to perform?

Asked on September 27, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Rhode Island

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Whose responsibility they are depends on whether your neighbor was at fault. Your neighbor is not responsible for events beyond his control; so, for example, if apparently healthy trees were knocked down by an unprecedented or unexpectedly strong storm, your neighbor is not responsible for their clean up on your property. On the other hand, if there was any indication that the trees were sick, old, posed a threat, etc., and your neighbor did not take the appropriate remedial action (e.g. cut them down or at least trim them in advance), then the neighbor probably is responsible. The issue is "fault"--is the neighbor at fault  somehow?

If the neighbor is responsible, there is no hard and fast rule about how long he has to remove them. At some point, if you feel the neighbor has taken too long and he won't act, you may have to consider a legal action if you want to force him to act (you'd be seeking an injunction forcing him to remove them, or reimbursement of your costs if you remove them).  Alternatively, if the trees are on both your properties, to avoid the cost and acrimony of legal action, it may make sense to split the cost with the neighbor.


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