Q&A about trees and property rights

Here are some answers to our most common questions about trees and property rights.

Can I trim a tree overhanging the property line?

Yes, property owners are always entitled to clear the airspace above their property of overhanging tree limbs. However,
this right is limited by the rights of neighbors as well. It is important to make sure you are not trespassing while doing the trimming — either by stepping onto the neighboring property, placing debris on the neighbor’s property or trimming parts of the tree that are on the neighboring property. Trimming should be done with care to not cause any reckless damage to the tree as well.

What can happen if I damage a neighbor’s tree? 

The law provides that a person is prohibited from recklessly damaging a tree on another’s property without permission
to do so. The law provides that doing so is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to $250 and/or 30 days in jail. The law further provides that in addition to this penalty, anyone who violates the law can be subject to damages up to three times the worth of the tree that was harmed.

Can I remove a tree that is on the property line? 

The law is unclear on whether landowners can remove a
tree themselves when it sits on a property line. Under the law, trees are considered a part of the property and landowners have a right to that tree, even if it is only halfway on the property. Because of this, it is best practice to get a neighbor’s permission before removing any tree that sits on the property line. This also can facilitate a discussion of who will pay for the removal, the need to enter onto property to safely remove the tree and disposal of the tree and any debris. Discussing the details ahead of time can save money and frustration afterward.

Who is liable if a tree from a neighboring property falls and damages my property?

Liability is always a question for a court to determine. However, typically landowners are not liable for damage caused by a falling tree from their property so long as they had no reason to believe it was likely the tree would fall. A tree that
is healthy, but for example, is struck by lightning and falls
or is toppled by strong winds, will likely not be the fault or responsibility of the landowner. If it is obvious that a tree poses a serious risk of falling, due to damage, disease or even being dead, the landowner might have responsibility for it falling.

If a tree falls on a line fence, the law is not clear on who is responsible for repairing the fence. In the best case scenario, the adjoining landowners should come to an agreement (or have a written agreement already in place) to determine who will pay for the cost of fence repair. If the landowners cannot agree, one or both of the landowners can file a complaint with the township trustees or the court to settle the dispute. It is important to remember though, that livestock owners always are responsible for ensuring their livestock is properly contained — even when a line fence maintenance dispute is on-going.

I don’t like it when the utility company trims the trees on my property. Can’t I stop them?

Probably not. It is likely that a utility company has a right of way or easement across your property in order to service and maintain the utility infrastructure. Trees are typically an issue with electric or phone lines, and power companies often must trim the trees in order to ensure they do not threaten to fall onto or damage the utility lines. If landowners have questions, they should consult the language of the right of way or easement to ensure that the utility has the ability to maintain the trees within or which overhang the easement or right of way. However, if the utility has the right under the language of the right of way or easement, landowners cannot prevent them from exercising that right. This is true even if the utility company has not recently, or ever, trimmed the trees in the past.

 

8 thoughts on “Q&A about trees and property rights

  1. Avatar Billy Curtis says:

    I live in sub division is North Ridgeville Ohio, my neighbor has decided to allow a burr oak to grow very inches from the border and a couple feet from my fence and no more than 15 feet from my house. The tree is about 7 feet high with its trunk about 3 inches in diameter. It is already leaning towards my house. From my research I have learned that this tree can have an 80 foot diameter and because of this it is not recommended in urban areas! I have also been to told by a naturalist the tree is small enough to be transplanted. My neighbor is in his 80s but has all his faculties. I have spoken my displeasure to him about the tree growing this close to my house but the neighbor seem not to care. I have no doubt that his goal is to block view of the power lines that runs behind our properties. It seems that there is probably nothing I can do until there is a problem. Can I do anything to keep from absorbing the expense of protecting my property when tree bigger?

    1. Avatar Leah Curtis says:

      As the article above provides, a property owner has a right to clear their airspace but cannot remove a tree from another person’s property without permission. You may want to check your subdivision and/or city code to determine if there are any specific regulations regarding trees and property lines in your area.

      Thank you for your question. I would invite you to consider joining the Ohio Farm Bureau where you an access information like this at any time from our legal staff. Visit https://ofbf.org/join/ for more information.

  2. Avatar Khorae Olivier says:

    I really like what you said about being able to clear the airspace above your own property of overhanging tree limbs. My husband and I recently noticed that our neighbor’s juniper tree is coming close to a power line over our home and we want to make sure the heavy winds in our area don’t make a tree limb fall onto it. Thank you for the information about how we can get it trimmed as long as we keep all of it on our own property and our side of the line and not cause reckless damage to the tree. http://www.dowlingtreeservices.com.au/reports-and-consultations

  3. Avatar HuronCountyOhio says:

    Our neighbors have a seriously weakened tree close to the property line that is leaning on our shed. We have asked them several times to remove the tree because if it falls it will cause damage to our shed and fall across our driveway which has a camper and three cars parked in it at any given time. It will also hit our garage and take out our power line running from the alley way to the house.
    We have contacted they city tree board and safety council; they state that the city ordnance does not relate to trees located on private property (however it is no specified as this in the ordnance).I cannot find any Ohio revised codes/laws that state if the tree owner is negligent they are responsible for the damages

    Are there any other avenues that we can take to get the tree removed? Should we file a complaint with the local court? Can we remove the tree in an effort to “protect our property” after notifying them and take them to small claims court for the costs?

  4. Avatar Army Vet 92Bravo says:

    I live in Forest, Ohio and have a rental property also in Forest. A neighbor’s dead tree fell on my rental property. My tenant and I spent several hours cutting this dead wood into manageable pieces. When I was not there to prevent it, the neighbor came onto my rental property and took the cut wood and is now claiming she will press charges for trespassing if we attempt to reclaim this wood. Was it legal for the neighbor to take this wood from my property, even though it was her dead tree that fell on my property and caused some minor damage, for which she refuses to accept responsibility? Does the cut wood legally belong to me and my tenant?

    1. Lynn Snyder Lynn Snyder says:

      Entering onto another’s property without permission may give rise
      to a claim for trespassing. Liability, damages, and determination of
      ownership disputes are issues of fact to be determined by a court. You
      may wish to consult with an attorney for further evaluation of your
      claims.

  5. Avatar JoDel Backlund-Freeman says:

    I have read the comments about the trees and property lines. I have a question that is similar but slightly different in origin. Our issue is that we have a row of Pine trees that acts as our property line. Recently our neighbor has begun much construction of a stockyard very near our line of trees. The real problem is that he is hauling a lot of debris and old windows and so many other items I cannot even begin to list. He is shoving all these supplies either directly next to the trees and or under them. What is our rights as far as asking them to remove their items away from our trees? We have taken photographs of the situation as proof to the junkyard they are creating all along our tree line. Should we have a surveyor come out? Is there an amount of footage they should abstain from, from the trees? We are trying to be patient but I feel that they are taking advantage of the trees and overstepping our property rights.

  6. Avatar BB says:

    A dead tree in my yard came down across my privacy fence and a limb landed in neighbor’s yard. I hired a tree company to get the limb out of the fence, clean up branches on the neighbor property and cut down the rest of the tree so it would not fall again on neighbor property. I also had another tree cut down on the back of my property to keep it from falling i.n the neighbor’s yard. Neighbor has a lipstick vine which has grown up and is climbing over my fence, roots traveling under my drive way and sprouting between slates of my deck. Its main woody trunk is pushing through my privacy fence and breaking the boards. I pour bleach on the sprouts in my yard and coming up through my deck, and cut off vines and branches hanging over my fence. I have asked neighbor to remove the vine from my fence. She does nothing and the vine is getting huge. Eventually it will collapse my fence. Other sprouts are coming up on neighbor’s side, cling to my fence which I of course will not cut or poison. Do I have any recourse.? Or just forget and watch the fence go down. Township says I cannot get a permit to put up another privacy fence, only a chain link.

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