Know Your Rights and Responsibilities: Trees on Property Lines

Trees can be a beautiful addition to any property, but they can also be a source of conflict between neighbors. It’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to trees on or near property lines.

Let’s break down some key legal points:

Removing a Healthy Tree on the Boundary Line

If a tree trunk straddles the property line, it’s considered a “boundary tree” and belongs jointly to both property owners. Neither owner can remove the tree without the other’s consent. Doing so could result in liability for:

  • Reduction in property value: Trees, especially mature ones, can significantly increase a property’s value. Removing them can have a measurable negative impact on home prices.

  • Loss of ornamental value and benefits provided by the tree: Shade and cooling, energy savings, privacy and noise reduction, wildlife habitat,  and stormwater management.

A Florida court case Elowsky v. Gulf Power Co. awarded damages when a boundary tree providing shade was removed without permission, recognizing the tree’s importance to the property owner’s comfort and enjoyment.

Liability for Overhanging Branches and Encroaching Roots

Branches and roots often extend across property lines, leading to potential conflicts. According to Florida law:

  • Healthy Branches/Roots: If they are healthy, the landowner with the tree on their property is not liable for damage. However, the adjoining property owner can trim them back to the property line at their own expense.
  • Dead Branches/Roots: If they are dead, the tree owner could be liable for any damage caused.

In Scott v. McCarty, the court upheld that landowners are responsible for trimming encroaching branches or roots themselves, reaffirming this principle.

Responsibility for Fallen Trees

Who is responsible when a tree falls? It depends on the tree’s health:

  • Dead Trees: If a dead tree falls and causes damage, the landowner where the tree was originally located is responsible for the damages.
  • Live Trees: If a live tree falls and causes damage, the adjoining property owner is responsible.

However, it’s important to note that Florida case law isn’t entirely settled on this issue, especially regarding hazardous trees that aren’t yet dead.

When assessing damages, courts may consider:

  • The tree’s species, size, age, and condition
  • Its location and function on the property
  • Costs to replace the tree (if possible)
  • Decrease in overall property value
  • Loss of the specific benefits that tree provided
Be a Good Neighbor

While these are the legal guidelines, the best approach is often to communicate with your neighbor before taking action. Discuss any concerns about trees near property lines and try to reach a mutually agreeable solution. 

Florida Tree Tools: Get recommendations, identify trees, and learn about Florida’s urban and suburban trees!

Residential Tree Removal Guide: General guidelines to help determine whether a permit is needed for your tree removal project.

Request Tree Removal: Contact the County to remove fallen trees or limbs in public maintained areas.

Apply for a Tree Removal Permit: Resources for obtaining a tree removal permit in Hillsborough County.




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Posted: July 9, 2024

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Lawn, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Florida-friendly Landscaping, Hillsborough County, Hoa, Landscape, Master Gardener, Trees

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