Your neighbors are proud of their beautiful, large fruit trees, which are now growing substantially over your property. The trees have grown so large that a number of branches extend over your house, tool shed, and other improvements, which you believe results in a dangerous condition, not to mention rotten fruit dropping on your patio. What are your options: force the neighbor to remove the tree extending over your land, sue for damages, or something else? You may be surprised.
Is Your Neighbor Legally Responsible?
In Florida, a possessor of land is not liable to others outside his land for nuisance caused by vegetation growing from his land over adjoining properties. Scott v McCarty, 41 So. 3d 989 (Fla.4th DCA 2010). Therefore, your neighbor has no duty to remove or even trim the tree branches that encroach onto your property.
However, as the adjoining property owner, you have the privilege to trim back, at your expense, the offending (encroaching) tree, roots, branches, and other vegetation. Gallo v Heller, 512, So. 2d 215 (Fla.3d DCA 1987). Maybe this does not seem fair. You may wonder why you must pay to cut your neighbor’s trees that she allowed to grow over your property. The rationale appears to be grounded in common sense and public policy. Courts recognize that allowing such a claim would likely result in innumerable, and in many instances, vexatious lawsuits. In fact, one case reasoned that departing from the precedent would invite further litigation between neighbors, which as a matter of public policy should be avoided. Scott v McCarty, 41 So. 3d 989 (2010)
If your neighbor’s tree is growing onto your property, as a general rule you may trim the vegetation that extends onto your property. However, you should not cut any portion of the tree on your neighbor’s property and should not enter onto your neighbor’s property without consent. In fact, you should chat with your neighbor first and discuss what you intend to do. Even if your neighbor disagrees, and the matter ends up in a courtroom, a judge is likely to look favorably on your attempt to amicably resolve your disagreement.
Of course, there are exceptions to most general rules. In Sullivan v Silver Palm Properties, Inc., 558 So. 2d 409 (Fla. 1990), the Florida Supreme Court cites at least two cases which held a landowner responsible for maintenance of trees and vegetation obstructing motorists’ view of a stop sign. The Courts reasoned that overhanging vegetation which blocks traffic control devices presents an imminent danger, and that a duty to remove vegetation obstructing critical traffic control signage is common sense. Also, the general rule in Florida of no duty or liability of a neighbor for overgrown trees is not the rule followed in all states.
Other matters to consider before taking action may include:
- review municipal or county ordinances, if applicable;
- investigate and consider the possibility of removal of vegetation on your property causing damage to your neighbor’s property; and
- use common sense.
These types of claims can be fact driven and varying facts may affect an outcome in court. If in doubt, be sure to seek a competent attorney to assist you. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue, please feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 239-344-1369.