Timber trespass occurs when a person intentionally cuts down or otherwise injures trees on another person’s property. Timber trespass is serious in Washington. We love our trees here.
As a result, harsh penalties are imposed on people committing timber trespass. The court is required to award treble damages to the owner of the trees unless the trespass was casual or involuntary. This harsh remedy of triple damages makes timber trespass lawsuits very expensive for people alleged to have cut down another person’s trees.
Timber trespass cases often arise because people were unsure of the boundaries of their property. People cut down trees thinking the trees were on their property when it turns out the trees were actually on a neighboring property. It happens all the time. An easy way to avoid the confusion is to hire a licensed surveyor to survey the boundary lines. This can clear up any confusion about who owns the trees. While surveys can be costly, spending money on a survey to find a boundary line is usually much less expensive than paying a lawyer to defend a timber trespass lawsuit and paying treble damages. So do not cut trees before you know the location of the boundary lines.
Another typical situation occurs when one property owner wants to cut down trees that he or she knows is on a neighbor’s property. Various reasons could exist for wanting to cut the trees, from improving a view to removing dangerous trees that might fall during a storm. A person does not commit a trespass if he or she had permission to cut the neighbor’s trees. Thus, permission can be a complete defense. But timber trespass lawsuits often center on disagreements about whether permission was actually given and the scope and extent of that permission. Usually permission is given orally during the course of a friendly, neighborly conversation. Oral agreements are hard to prove in court. Thus, it is best to get permission in writing and have that permission be as specific as possible about what trees can be cut. So do not cut a neighbor’s trees without written permission.
Usually when a person wants to cut trees down, he or she hires loggers or other professional tree cutters to cut and remove the trees. This is especially true in the case of taller trees that require special skill to cut and remove safely. Timber trespass disputes can arise if the people cutting the trees are not given specific instructions about where and what trees to cut. If you know where the boundary lines are and you know what trees on your property you want cut, make that explicitly clear in the instructions given to the tree cutters. Ideally, these instructions are given in writing to be better able to prove the exact instructions that were given. If the tree cutters do not follow those instructions and they cut trees where they were not supposed to, they will likely be liable for the trespass and not the person who hired them. Give clear written instructions to tree cutters.
Following these three simple tips can avoid a large percentage of timber trespass lawsuits.
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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