Trees are beautiful and provide many benefits. Who doesn’t like trees? But trees are also a common subject of disputes between neighbors. Complaints can range from trees blocking views or sunshine, trees being too tall and in danger of falling, or trees growing over property lines.
When someone doesn’t like a neighbor’s tree, the first question they have is can they cut it down.
The general answer is obvious. No, you cannot go onto your neighbor’s property and cut their trees. But there are some exceptions that may allow some limited actions.
The most common situation is if the tree or shrub is growing over the property line, you can cut back the portion that has grown over onto your property. But you cannot cut the whole tree or shrub down or cut it back farther than the property line.
In some particular cases, you may be able to maintain or improve your view. In Washington, property owners have no general right to a view unless a view right has been specifically granted in a document. Sometimes that grant can be in the form of a view easement granted from one property owner to another. In planned communities and homeowners’ associations, there can also be covenants recorded that protect views. If a view right has been granted to you, you may have grounds to seek removal or trimming of trees or shrubs to improve views.
Less common is the use of Washington’s spite structure statute. In RCW 7.40.030, a court can issue an injunction related to any structure erected to spite, injury, or annoy a neighbor. In some situations, courts have ruled this statute can apply to trees planted for no other purpose than to spite neighbors. If the court makes that finding, the court can order the trees be removed.
In any case, you almost always want to ask permission of your neighbor before cutting their trees or shrubs in any manner. If they refuse and you think you have strong legal grounds for the cutting you want to do, you should consider requesting permission from a court before you go chopping away. Otherwise, your neighbor could bring a lawsuit against you for timber trespass and possibly obtain treble damages for any illegal cutting.
So enjoy your neighbors’ trees. But before you chop them down yourself, make very sure you have the legal authority to do so.
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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