Does your neighbor have a pesky tree that is growing on to your property? Do you wish you could just chop it down and get rid of it?
In Washington, to avoid liability for timber trespass, you will want to think carefully before acting. The law differs depending on where the tree is located.
Start with trees on your neighbor’s property. If the trunk of the tree is entirely on your neighbor’s property, then the tree belongs to them. You cannot cut the tree down if it is growing over onto your property. But you can trim back any branches or roots that are over the property line. In doing so, you do not have any duty to ensure your trimming does not damage the tree. If you trim back the branches or roots and the tree dies, you are not liable. So hack away, just make sure to stay on your side of the property line.
However, the law is different for trees that straddle the boundary line. If the property line goes through the middle of the tree trunk, the tree is jointly owned by you and your neighbor. Since you jointly own such boundary trees, you are allowed to trim them. But if your trimming kills the tree or you cut down the tree entirely, you could be liable for timber trespass. The damages for timber trespass can be severe and include emotional distress damages and treble damages (three-times the damages).
Before trimming or cutting a tree that is on or close to a boundary line, think twice. If there is a question about exactly where the tree is located, consider getting a survey. Or you could ask your neighbor for permission to do the trimming or cutting work you desire. And if you have any questions about your legal rights, be sure to consult an attorney.
Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
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