Trees Endangering People or Property

Parent Q&A

  • Any suggestions for an attorney to help me understand my rights with a neighbor who's out of control bamboo is now undermining the foundation of my house..??  

    Thanks in advance!

    Have you had a conversation with your neighbor before using an attorney?  It may be possible to resolve the issue without paying fees.  

    Geoffrey Murry, , specializes in neighbor disputes. We had tree issues with a neighbor and had a consultation with him. He was knowledgable and helpful. It was good to understand our legal rights and what the court would likely order if we were to litigate this issue, although obviously the goal is to resolve the issue in a friendly and neighborly way first. 

    Hi this happened to us but it was we who had the bamboo, planted along the property line and unbeknownst to us, the roots were coming up under our neighbors foundation. We had no idea so your neighbors may not realize either. In our case, our neighbors didn't say anything to us, they submitted a claim to their homeowner's insurance who in turn sued our homeowners insurance which paid for the repairs and we had to remove the bamboo - which trust me was a whole summer job as those roots are brutal.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Diseased Tall Redwood Tree on Neighbor's Property

April 2016

I recently had my trees including a redwood tree assessed by three arborists. All gave me unsolicited feedback about the redwood tree in a neighbor's yard. That tree, without being able to directly look at the tree or its roots, said it was either diseased or had root damage given that the canopy that does exists covers top 1/3 of the tree and is in poor condition and the lower 2/3s is dead branches. This 90 foot tree is surrounded by several homes in a dense environment that also includes a synagogue.

I contacted the City of Berkeley to see if there's something they can do or if they have programs about helping property owners but have not heard anything.

Does anyone have any familiarity with this kind of situation. I don't know this neighbor since it's not someone who lives on my block. Their property abuts several properties on a perpendicular street (the yard is behind my yard). I would like to talk to the neighbor but think it would be best to be able to present helpful information to the neighbor.

Thanks! Anon

Go talk to your neighbor. In the time it took you to post this you could have already been done with the conversation. Tell the neighbor what you learned. DO NOT get the city involved until you know for sure that no action will be taken by your neighbor. If my neighbor had information like this, I would want to know it. And I would be horrified if my neighbor sicced the city on me instead of talking to me herself. Just knock on the door

Call your homeowner's insurance agent. They have a vested interest in this situation. They may be willing to approach the neighbor, if you would prefer not to.

Alternatively, you can get the names and some contact information for all the abutting neighbors either from the tax assessor's public records or by asking a real estate agent who does business in your neighborhood to look up the owners' names, after you provide the addresses.

If your property, and other properties, are at risk for damage if this tree falls over, perhaps the affected parties could share the cost of mitigating the situation. Amelia Sue

Sounds like you have a ticking time bomb. Are you living in a location where the tree could fall and kill you or one of your neighbors? This kind of stuff does happen. If the tree is as bad as you describe you should move out until it is safe. I would notify ALL of your neighbors including the folks at the synagogue.

Make sure the city knows and takes action including contacting the mayor and city attorney if needed.

Trees do fall. We had a huge 100 foot tree just topple over one afternoon. In December a falling tree branch injured someone in Oakland.

But let me share this. We have two friends in Oakland hills who had tree problems. One family had a 100-foot tree Redwood tree unexpectedly fall. These people had amazing luck as the tree just happen to fall exactly between there house and their neighbors. Had it fallen a few feet to the left or right it would have taken out either house. All they lost was a car and their mailbox.

Our other friends were not as lucky. They had a tree fall right through the middle of their house "cutting" the living room and master bedroom in half like a giant chainsaw. The entire family was at home at the time and had anyone been in the living room there is no way they would have survived. Had the tree fallen a few degrees in any other different it would have landed in the kitchen or kids rooms.

Not trying to scare you but treed in urban areas do fall and it's all a question of where it's going to land.

As far as I know the city doesn't have a program to help homeowners. They do have a responsibility to protect the public. ANON

Is the tree in danger of shedding branches, damaging property? If so, have an arborist give you a quote for what it would cost to have the tree cut down, and have them put in writing that the tree is in danger of causing damage. Then give this information to your neighbor. You say you don't know them, but if the tree causes harm to a neighbor's property they could be liable -- so it's probably better that they know.

I am going through a similar situation with a neighbor's tree, and likely we will wind up sharing the expense of having the tree removed. Though not a great solution, your neighbor might finally act if you and the other affected neighbors offered to contribute to the cost of having it removed.

chop it down!

Write them a letter, expressing your concerns. You might ask a City Arborist to weigh in. Taking a big tree down is expensive and emotional; to make it work you might have to (eventually) offer to split the cost with them. You could try mediation...

Our tree roots damaging neighbor's yard?

Oct 2012

Our neighbors are upset about a large ash tree in our back yard. It was planted by the original owner about 30 years ago; the neighbors have lived here since that time. The tree is about 15 feet from the fence between the two properties; it's about 31'' in diameter and at least 40' high.

They have two concerns: (1) they worry that a branch may fall into their yard and injure someone, and (2) they say the roots extend well into their yard and are causing damage to a walkway and small wall. Originally they were concerned that the roots might damage the foundation of their house, but they appear to have been reassured by several arborists and another neighbor that that's not likely. They've stopped insisting that we just remove the tree. (They are elderly, and many years ago had an experience where a family member's young child was killed by a falling branch in her back yard. I don't know why they are suddenly concerned about this now.)

We've had several highly-recommended tree companies look at the situation, and paid over $1,000 to have a consulting arborist do a complete report. The neighbors declined to help pay for the report. We're planning to have the tree pruned and cabled to deal with the falling- branch possibility (cost around $1,500-$2,000).

Our main question is about the roots, and what our legal responsibility is. The consultant said that the damage actually might not be caused by the roots, as he thought earth movement was a more likely cause of at least some of it (he did not put this in his report). The solution he proposed was to carefully (by hand or compressed air) dig a 2-3 foot trench along the property line and carefully cut the roots by hand. One company had given us an estimate of over $3,000 for that. We had another company come out today to give us an estimate, and their arborist was afraid it'd make the tree unstable enough to fall down and advised against it.

I've checked the BPN archives and done an internet search, but don't find a good answer to what our legal responsibility is (though it seems that the neighbors can go ahead and cut the roots on their side of the fence at their expense, as long as they don't damage the health of the tree). I'm hoping someone on BPN knows, or can maybe direct us to someone who does (or to the section of the legal code that deals with it). Also, a number of posts recommended mediation. I'd be grateful for more info about how that works, along with how to find someone who does it well. Thanks in advance. Would like to keep the college fund for college!

You can check with your local building department as to what your neighbors can do in terms of root pruning, and what your own responsibility is. Sue

Neighbors Tree Falling Into Our Yard

March 2011

Our neighbor has a tree bordering our property line that is dead. The only thing keeping it from falling is their fence and an arbor that is on property. I should note that we do not have a good relationship with these neighbors, there is long history of bad blood. Though we've made attempts to try and have at the least, a civil relationship, they choose to simply ignore us (even if our young children say ''hello'' as kids do, they pretend that they don't hear them and walk past them). We sent them a registered letter a few months ago letting them know that the tree is falling onto our property and requesting that they either remove it or have it braced professionally on their side of the property lines to ensure that it doesn't fall onto our property. They have not responded to the letter at all or made any attempts to keep the tree from falling. The fence is now sagging from the weight of the tree. If the tree does fall, it would fall onto our porch and block our access off of our property (we are in one of those houses that sit in the middle of the block, so our access out to the street is only through a shared walkway). I've checked through the city of Berkeley and since the tree is on private property there is nothing that the city can or should do. I'm at a loss. I've long given up on expecting the neighbors to act courteously or responsibly when it comes to us, but I really just don't know what to do protect our property (and children) from this tree falling onto our home and yard. Many Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions. Just Wanting To Protect My Kids

I have no idea if this would work, but a friend of mine recently had a suggestion to a similar situation. Call up your insurance agent and describe the situation, then ask if that if the tree does fall onto your porch, would your insurance pay for the damage or your neighbors who own the tree? Your agent then might be willing to call up the neighbor's agent to discuss potential liability. not sure I could do it, but my friend could

I'm not sure how you presented this case to the city of Berkeley, but the advice you have received is incorrect. We had a similar situation and although we are in Oakland I can't think it's that different legally. 1: If any of the tree is growing over to your side you can remove it, i.e. branches etc. 2: If the tree is dead and a liability to fall on your property it is 100% the owners responsibility to remove it. The city can put a lien on their house until they do. Looming trees

Getcherself a chain saw, you can cut anything on your side of the fence to the property line. You've been polite, now just take care of it. No more waiting. It's actually pretty satisfying.

i am not one for over regulating ... but really, safety first! and, if a tree is destroying your fence/ right of way, and causing a falling hazard... there ought to be some help from town hall. have you asked the building and safety department?

Neighbors' tree roots and our foundation

Oct 2007

Our neighbor's tree roots are making their way towards our foundation. We know this because they've started to push up our concrete patio and you can see the direction they're headed. Anyone been through this and have any advice? (non-legal, of course)

The unfortunate thing is that this neighbor has been pretty uncooperative with tree issues in the past, and has several very large trees in a very small yard. We will definitely go the route of talking to them to try and solve the problem, but wonder if anyone has suggestions on protocol or experience with a similar situation. We'd like to maintain a positive relationship AND don't want our foundation compromised. We also don't want to shell out a ton of $$ for something that's someone else's responsibility. Fair Fred in El Cerrito

You are allowed by law to do anything to your neighbor's tree that lands in your yard. So you could, for example, hire someone to come in, dig down, and chop all the roots away that are growing toward your foundation and put up a retaining block or salt the earth or whatever under the ground to keep them from growing back there. Warn your neighbor if it may hurt or kill the tree, but you have a right to protect your property and it would be legal. (Of course the best situation would be to have your neighbors agree and share the cost so you can remain neighborly. Just don't count on it.) -anon

If it is their tree, then they are liable. You might want to make sure it's not a city tree...because then the city is liable. Your insurance may cover this, if/when it gets to the foundation, but then they redflag you. Talking or mediation is always a great first step...but I suggest you find out whether or not it's his tree for certain prior to starting the dialogue process. Also, if his tree is about to destroy your foundation, you may want to see if the roots are going to, or have, damaged your sewer lateral. I know, more info than you wanted to hear... dana

You may legally cut any tree part that is on your property whether it's underground or hanging over a fence. If your neighbor is uncooperative he/she likely will not want to share the cost of you digging out his tree roots. Hopefully the roots are not main roots that will damage the tree....but if that is what you decide to do (and foot the bill) you should let your neighbor know this. Peter Rudy is an excellent, knowledgable arborist. His number is in the book. He can give you great advice. He'll know what to do and how to do it. former landscaper

If your neighbors have been uncooperative in the past, they probably won't stop now. We had the same thing, tree in the neighbor's yard was getting close to our foundation. We offered to pay for the whole thing though because we felt it was for our safety and also wanted to keep a positive relationship, like you said. So that's what we did. And it cost us ALOT, not cheap. But it was still worth it.

Ironically, our neighbors received some notes on their door about how cruel they were for cutting down that tree (even though they didn't, we did), the birds & squirrels were losing their home. So I guess we should've lost our home so the birds and squirrels could stay? anon

Since a couple of people who responded to your post mentioned cutting out the tree's roots on your side of the property line as a solution to your problem, I think I should point out a serious disadvantage in going that route.

Yes, you do have the legal right to do that, but as a horticulturist, I know that it can have the effect of destabilizing the tree and making it vulnerable to toppling over! I really doubt that you want to take that risk since doing so has the potential of causing just as bad consequences as foundation damage- the possibility of someone being injured, or worse, as well as serious property damage.

And- although most trees can sustain some very carefully and knowledgeably done removable of a few roots, taking out half of them, or even just the big major ones that you fear may endanger your foundation, carries a good possibility of killing the tree- which would increase the odds of it falling down unexpectedly.

The mediation route that's been suggested is a much better way to go! Cece

In spite of the apparent good intentions of those who wrote in saying you could do anything you wanted to your neighbor's tree if part of it was on your property, they are apparently not sufficiently well versed in California law. While the gist of the ''my property, my rules'' approach is generally true, there are some very important exceptions, and it sounds like your case may fall into the ''exceptional'' category.

For instance, let's say you have a three hundred year old oak growing near the fence line of an adjoining property. Your neighbor sells, and the new owner of that property decides they want more light for their lawn, and has your oak brutally pruned right to the fence line, permanently damaging the aesthetics, health, and structure of your heritage oak. Historically, court precedent would be AGAINST your neighbor, holding them liable for YOUR lost property value, and in some cases other damages as well.

Similarly, even if your neighbor's tree is impinging on your foundation, if you cut the roots and the tree then falls onto your neighbor's house during the next windstorm, there is every possibility that you will be held liable - especially if the neighbor can show that the root-cutting weakened the tree, and you cannot provide clear and convincing proof that the roots were affecting your foundation in a significant way. It is almost never safe to say that you can do ''whatever you want'' without regard to the consequences, even if it is your own property.

My advice would be to contact a reputable consulting arborist, and perhaps a lawyer, before having anything cut. If you have to cut roots to preserve your foundation, it would probably be wise to inform your neighbor of any risks associated with the work, so that they can take appropriate action as necessary. Whatever your relationship with your neighbor, failure to do so may be perceived as negligence, or worse. concerned for your well-being

Will my insurance cover it if my trees fall on neighbor's house?

March 2004

Hi all, We have a couple of trees in our yard (some dead, some alive) that are leaning towards our neighbors yard and house. He has asked that we cut one down (or at least trim it), because he's worried that it will fall on his house or fence. I've been assuming that if the tree falls and damages his property, our homeowners insurance would cover it. I also have been assuming that if I remove it now, insurance will not cover it. Can anyone answer the following questions? Also, feel free to add any thoughts of your own.
1. Are my assumptions about what insurance will/will not cover correct?
2. Do I have any obligation to do anything now to take the tree down?

Let's say the trees were in your neighbor's yard, leaning toward your house and threatening to fall onto your property and damage it or potentially injure you or one of your children. Should your neighbor's primary concern be whether s/he was going to have to pay for removing the tree, or should s/he be more concerned about the risk of injuring you or damaging your property? Your message does not make clear what type of damage might be imminent should one of these trees fall, but it does make clear that your priorities are misplaced. If the thought of damaging your neighbor's property or potentially even injuring your neighbor leaves you unmoved, perhaps the thought that the neighbor might have grounds for an expensive lawsuit that would exceed the bounds of your homeowner's insurance policy might stir your feelings.
Golden Rule applies here

If lightning struck a healthy tree and it fell on your neighbor's house, either your insurance or your neighbor's -- probably both -- would cover the damage. But if the tree just fell over one day because it's dead and leaning, particularly given that you knew about this condition but did nothing to resolve it, you could definitely be held liable and would have a much harder time getting full in! surance coverage. In other words, yes, you have an obligation to take reasonable preventative measures in a situation like this. Remember that besides your neighbor's fence, a falling tree could hurt or kill a person who happened to be standing in your yard or the neighbor's at the wrong time. It's worth spending a little money and time to ensure that isn't likely to happen. Your neighbor may be willing to share the costs with you if you can't afford it otherwise. You may want to visit the library or bookstore and pick up a copy of the Nolo Press book on Neighbor Law. anon

An obvious answer to your question is that you can ask your insurer about the coverage. The question I have for you is why you would consider damaging the relationship you have with your neighbor over a couple of dead trees? Even if you have to pay to have the trees removed, it is the correct and polite, and neighborly, thing to do. Your trees are your responsibility. Heather

Your homeowners policy undoubtedly requires you to perform maintenance and repair problems that you know about. If a tree you realized was leaning finally falls down, certainly this could be construed as maintenance you failed to perform. Read your policy. Homeowners insurance is supposed to cover true, unforseeable ''accidents.'' I'm not sure why you think it's ethical to transfer responsibility for a problem you are aware of to your insurer. Not to mention, waiting until the tree falls puts your neighbor at risk of injury from a tree falling on his home - do you really want to risk this? Your neighbor's request seems perfectly reasonable to me. homeowner

You should check directly with your insurance provider to see what is covered. Have you considered also that if the trees are large enough for you to worry about fence damage, they are probably large enough to cause human injury --possibly even kill someone. I think you are being somewhat short-sighted not to consider that possibility. You might be liable for your neighbors injuries--not to mention the ethics of failing to prevent a forseeable accident. anon

Please, you don't! want to risk someone getting hurt. Be respectful and considerate. Take care of the trees. You may think you will save money by letting the insurance pay for it after the damage is done, but more likely, your insurance will go up. Try collaborating with your neighbor. Maybe they would be willing to pay for some of the work if they enjoyed some benefit. sunsol

Uhh, forgive me if I'm wrong, but it seems that your thinking goes like this: I don't want to spend the money to cut down those dead and leaning trees, so I'll just wait until they fall on my neighbor's house and then I'll let my insurance pay for the damage. If so, I respectfully submit that your thinking is--please pardon me--selfish as well as shortsighted. What if someone gets hurt by the falling trees? Not only would you feel terrible (I assume), but you could be bankrupted if your insurance coverage doesn't meet the medical needs of the injured person. And even if the only thing injured is a fence, you're still going to get bit in the butt if you claim the damages through your insurance. Your rates will go up, and in today's climate, you may very well be subsequently dropped by your insurance company (Allstate recently tried to drop us because we had two small theft claims in a period of less than five years. It's the norm these days.) For what it's worth, our neighbor's tree had some branches that were bumping against our house. After asking his permission, WE hired a tree person to trim the branches in question. When the same tree was subsequently blown over in a recent windstorm and actually fell against our house, HE immediately--that afternoon--got someone out to cut the whole thing down. I think you absolutely have an obligation to take down those trees. Happy Neighbor

In regards to your leaning trees, I think you should cut them down. Although it is true that your insurance will cover it, you are being rather impolite by assuming that your neighbor will not mind the damage it does to his house or yard! What if one of your trees causes damage to his roof and it is raining? His hand made rug is ruined, his precious porcelain vase is broken, his house is now very cold...he will be furious! That is a MAJOR inconvenience which could have been avoided if you have kept up your yard properly. I think that being a good neighbor requires you to consider the damage and trouble your trees would cause your neighbor and do what is necessary to prevent that. denise

What a timely question! In last week's wind/rain storms, one of our Cedar's snapped off and was hurled into out neighbors yard, destroying the front of his garage and decimating a 75 year old maple tree. Luckily, no one was hurt, and the damage was minimal. The trouble with falling trees is that you usually don't get to decide which way or when they fall. To my surprise, our insurance did not cover this incident. It was considered an Act of God that created a falling object and our neighbors homeowners insurance is covering the damage done to the garage. (They are also raising his rates as a result, which seems so unfair, but is the topic of another post.) AND, neither insurance company covered the cost of removing the cedar or the maple. You literally couldn't get to his house, but his insurance company stated that they insured his house, not his tree or landscaping. Although we were under no obligation to pay for anything, we felt it was appropriate to pay for removing both trees at a cost of about $1600 to us. Now in our case, we are talking about a healthy tree that we could not forsee would do this damage. Not tending to dead and/or leaning trees could be seen as negligence and leave you open to a lawsuit - especially since they have pointed it out to you and asked you to take care of it. IMHO - it's better to be safe than sorry. Remove your dead trees. Take care of the other trees that are leaning. Show some good faith that you are concerned about the safety and well-being of your neighbor and his property. It will protect you and keep your neighborhood relations in good standing. Hope this helps! Feeling fortunate

Let's see -- because your neighbor has put you on warning, you are indeed liable if a tree falls on your neighbors property. I'm not sure how tall your tree is, but beware! If a tree falls and kills or injures someone, it would be your fault both morally and legally. Your homeowners insurance would cover the damage up to the limits of the policy (most likely) but if you really want to be certain you should ask your insurance broker if your policy would cover these things. Your best bet would be to get an arborist to come take a look at your tree. Most arborists will come out and give a free estimate. If an arborist says that the tree is not a risk, then they assume the liability of a future tree failure. And, most importantly, tree removal is not the only option. Structural pruning can definitely improve tree safety! We recently had Maxwell Klump remove a large and hazardous 100' cypress tree. It was expensive, but his bid was low compared to the other 5 bids we obtained. Here is his info -- I highly recommend him! Maxwell Tree Service 510-652-3473 - Candace (arborist in training)

We have two really large trees hanging over our neighbors' property (as well as our own house). I asked my insurance company about our liability if a limb falls on the neighbors' house. They said PROVIDED I could demonstrate that I'd routinely maintained the trees by professional inspection and trimming, then a falling branch is considered an ''act of God'', and they will cover the damage. However, it seems unlikely that a dead or leaning tree that you have declined to remove after your neighbor has requested it would fall into that category. Besides, someone could be hurt or killed if they're under the tree when it falls. Sorry, I am afraid that it is your ethical and financial responsibility to trim or remove the trees before they do any damage. If they were healthy trees that the neighbors wanted trimmed for view enhancement it is reasonable to expect them to pay for this service. But it is your responsibility not to endanger your neighbors or their property. --circumspect tree hugger

Neighbor wants us to take out "hazardous" palm

March 2004

We have a number of palm trees on our property which we love. However, there is one palm and a redwood that is growing right on the edge of our property. The condominium complex next to ours has decided that they don't like the palm and redwood. They have gotten an expert to look them over and decide that the palm presents a ''hazard to life and limb''. They originally wanted us to get rid of the redwood because it was causing their sidewalk to crack. They apparently couldn't get the tree guy to say that the redwood was damaging their foundation but they are still going after our palm. Their groundskeeper has pulled off half of the frond bottoms that you leave on the tree. I think the tree only extends about 2 inches onto the separating curb and does not impinge or protrude onto their sidewalk between both properties. They are now insisting that we remove the tree at our own expense. Any advice on how to handle this situation? Does the condo association have the right to rip off parts of our tree? Are we legally obligated to tear down a tree that we really like and would like to keep because of their complaints? Your advice is much appreciated. stumped

The book Neighbor Law, published by Nolo, covers many of these issues related to trees and property lines. Unfortunately, sometimes the answer is ''it depends.'' Available at the library or any good bookstore. You could also try the Nolo outlet in west Berkeley, but every time I used go there they were out of the thing I wanted.

If you are considering legal action, you might want to first try mediation, which is almost certainly cheaper. David in Berkeley