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Mike Myers
Mike Myers
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Encroaching Trees-Rights and Responsibilities

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We’ve handled quite a few cases involving trees.

Tree roots cause "stub-toes" in sidewalks. The stub-toes cause people to trip and fall.

Branches fall from trees. The branches damage property and sometimes cause motor vehicle accidents.

Trees are removed from someone else’s property. The timber trespass statute is implicated.

But some people have questions about their neighbors’ trees and bushes that don’t involve injuries. One of the most common is who is responsible when a tree belonging to one neighbor encroaches on another neighbor’s property.

A couple of Washington cases address the issue. The affected neighbor has the right to trim the encroaching portions of the tree. But the primary responsibility for removal falls on the tree’s owner. Here are key excerpts from the Washington cases:

An action for abatement of a nuisance consisting of the overhanging branches of a tree on an adjoining lot will be sustained…when some actual and sensible damages are shown, although insignificant; hence it was sufficient that plaintiffs simply proved that the leaves falling from the overhanging branches of a poplar tree on defendants’ lot caused plaintiffs some additional work in caring for their lawn; that the needles from the overhanging branches of a fir tree on defendants’ lot caused plaintiffs some additional work in keeping their premises neat and clean, and fell on their roof and caused some stoppage of gutters; and that sometimes, when the wind blew in the right direction the needles blew into the house and annoyed the occupants.

A landowner has a remedy in his own hands as respects alleged nuisance from overhanging branches from a tree on adjoining landowner’s lot, in that without notice if he has not encouraged the maintenance of such conditions, and after notice if he has, he may clip the branches overhanging his premises at the line.

It is the duty of the one who is the owner of the offending agency to restrain its encroachment upon the property of another, not the duty of the victim to defend or protect himself against such encroachment and its consequent injury.

The best policy is to talk through these issues with your neighbor. But if push comes to shove it’s important to know the law.