by Steve Turner
This is were the law can get a little gray because removing similar types or amounts of limbs from different species of trees can have different effects. Some species are much more tolerant than others to pruning, and the size and amount that can be safely removed will vary greatly between them. Most shrubs and many smaller ornamental trees will tolerate heavy pruning without damage and would most likely be able to regrow back to their original form if left alone.
On the other hand, if you remove large limbs from medium or mature trees, it is unlikely that the tree will be able to replace them and the loss will be permanent. In some cases this would be tolerable, but if the tree is stressed or in competition with other trees, the heavy pruning could indeed damage it.
Also, the size of the limb is very important. Removing a limb that is very large may cause a wound that will never close, and form a cavity or structural defect in the future. If you cut lower limbs back to the property line and the canopy above shades them, they will most likely die due to lack of sunlight.
Nevertheless, you do have the right to remove any deadwood or hazardous limbs, regardless of size or effect on the tree.
Getting access to the tree
Another issue becomes access. Do you need to enter the tree from the neighbor’s property or can you do the work from your side? Many tree care companies will not work on neighbor’s trees without written permission from the owner. I would suggest that both parties agree on which limbs are to be removed ahead of time and not just leave an open-ended statement saying that any limb that has crossed the property line can be removed. You may come home to find that your expectations have not been met.
A common situation is a tree or any portion of its base that is growing directly on a property line. In this case the tree becomes joint property and both parties must agree to remove or prune the tree before any work is performed. If the tree dies or becomes a hazard, it is the joint responsibility of the owners to remove it and the cost is to be shared between them.
Another situation I run into often is when a neighbor has a hazardous tree that is threatening someone else’s property. You cannot force them to remove it unless your city has some type of ordinance that would allow the city to order its removal. Such is the case with many diseased elms and Dutch elm disease. What you can do is have the tree inspected by an arborist and if it is a hazard, the arborist can write a report that clearly states the tree’s defects and why it is hazardous. This can be presented to the owner and if they ignore their responsibility they can potentially be held liable when the tree fails because it is now a known hazard. If the tree were to fall on or damage your property, you can claim it against their insurance and they would have to pay the deductible.
This only applies if the tree is a known hazard – it will not apply to a healthy tree that fails in a storm. That would be considered an act of nature. Even if the tree showed internal decay at the point of failure, without prior knowledge of this defect you would have to claim it on your own insurance and pay the deductible. For a tree to be considered a known hazard it must evaluated by a qualified individual or be obvious to a reasonable person that the tree has a high chance of failure before it fails. An example would be a dead or leaning tree with a large cavity and decay. You would not have to have a prior evaluation in order to claim it as a known hazard because most reasonable people would be able to tell that this is a danger and act accordingly by having it removed. A tree can only be judged a hazard if it has a target under it, such as a structure or object, or is in an area that a person could be present such as a sidewalk, road or playground. A tree in the back forty with no targets and little chance of people being present could not be deemed a hazard no matter what shape it is in or how dead it is.
As an arborist I am always looking for hazard trees and the signs of structural defects whenever I do an estimate because I can potentially be held liable if I visit a property and fail to recognize a hazard and it ends up causing damage in the future. One of the hardest hazards to detect beforehand is root rot on trees because the damage is below ground and can only be seen if the soil around the base of the tree is removed and the roots inspected. Often the only above ground sign we have is the presence of the fruiting bodies of the fungus in the form of mushrooms around the base of the tree or on the roots. If you see any mushrooms or conks on any part of a tree, it would be wise to have the tree checked out by an arborist. These are signs that decay is present and the arborist needs to determine the extent of the decay to see if the tree is safe or needs to be removed.
These are just a few common examples and brief summaries of how the law applies to trees. For more detailed information about these or other questions, check with your insurance agent and/or an attorney about the specifics of your situation.
Steve Turner is a Certified Arborist from Arboricultural Services in Oakland County, Michigan.
Jenay Meister says
In 2009 I purchased a hud house in Garden City, MI. The house next door is a rental with the same tenants since I bought the house. They have a big tree in their backyard. The top of the trunk of the tree is growing over the fence and literally into the top corner of my garage pushing the wall of my garage out. I have spoken with the owner of the tree several times and he continues to say that I am responsible for the tree’s damages. He also expects me to pay for half the tree removal. Last year he promised to remove the tree and still hasn’t. Now there is MORE damage to my garage and we are arguing about whose responsibility it is to remove the tree. I have pictures of the tree and my garage on my cell phone. I don’t think it’s fair that I pay for any of this since it is not my tree. He collects the rent money every month but doesn’t want to maintain his property. IS THIS MY RESPONSIBILITY??
Jenay – We looked and unfortunately, we don’t have a Q&A that directly addresses your problem. Since the amount of money involved could be significant, I think the best course for you would be to contact a real estate attorney to find out what your rights are. I’m not sure where you are located but property law varies from state to state. Sorry we couldn’t be of more assistance. Good luck.
I just came across this website. I also live in Garden City, MI and I TOO have a rental next door. My tree issue is their tree’s roots are lifting the slabs of my driveway and will eventually cause it to crack and break.
I wonder if it’s the same landlord. It’s a husband and wife. I know the one next to me has several houses in Garden City.
I bought my home and had a new driveway poured way before the tree was even planted there. It was one of their tenants that planted it there and I requested that they didn’t knowing this would eventually be a problem. It grew really fast! It’s one of those maple trees from whirlybirds.
Our driveways are actually next to each other and when the tenant moved out years ago the landlords had to bring the house up to code before renting again. So one day they were actually having the driveway filled to even the slabs. I thought perfect opportunity to ask her if she was willing to remove it. It was getting big but not out of control. At that size I even offered that I would cut down and remove. But she just said “oh, I really hate to lose a tree” and she refused.
So now years later as predicted its tearing up my driveway. I called her a few weeks ago and informed her again that now its doing damage not only to my driveway but hers as well. She claimed she would come out to inspect and call me back. Obviously she has not.
I have found Garden City to be NO HELP AT ALL!!!! They seem to pick and choose what they want to be involoved in. All they’ve told me is its her tree and between her and me to settle.
I keep trying different people in all departments. I asked why if I didn’t cut my lawn all summer long I would be given a citation? Tall grass is mainly just an eye sore, not really causing damage to anyone elses property, yet they refuse to enforce her to maintain her tree roots that ARE actually causing damage to MY PROPERTY?!? Btw… I do cut and maintain my lawn ☺
Another example is when my yard was flooding they not only told me I had to fix it myself, how to fix, and that I can’t cause flooding or damage to my neighbors yard but I would also have to get a permit to do so! WHAT???!!!
But STILL, NO responsibility to any damage that she’s causing to my property.
Anyway, part of me wondered if we have the same landlord? The other question I was wondering even tho your post is from 2012 is were you ever able to get the city involved to make your neighbor fix or remove his tree? In general is your problem fixed and if so how did you get a resolution? Did you have to take to court or anything?
I cannot believe if you have gone to GC Hall that they wouldn’t make the owner fix this!!!
On second thought maybe I can…after all they’ve just scrugged off my situation as well.
Well, I hope to hear back from you and hope you were able to fix your garage at HIS cost.
Dale Ziegler says
I have several posts on the internet that state where a tree stump comes out of the ground is whose property it is on. I have also read that this is accepted as law. My question is: is there a Michigan statue or law that specifically states this to be indeed the law? If so, what is it?
There is likely not a black and white answer to your question. My suggestion would be to contact a tree expert in your area and or a real estate attorney. They can answer with far more certainty that we can. Thanks for reading!
How close to the property line can a tree be planted? My neighbor has one very close, but the trunk is on his side.
You might check with your municipality to see if they are any codes in your area to address this (unlikely). Beyond that, the person planting the tree has to understand that any neighboring properties might take issue with branches growing onto their property. From there, Steve illustrates the issues involved with pruning and trimming in those situations.
Thanks for reading!
Preston Hubbard says
I’ll get right down to it. I own my home out right, and I have a massive tree in my front yard just past the point where the city would allow me to put up a fence. I’d like the tree gone. Might the city remove it if I ask? or are they more likely to state that they’re not obligated to trim, cut, and remove anything? the tree is on city and or state property in that little courtesy patch that everyone has out front. The city may fine me for not maintaining the land the tree sits on. The same portion of the land I’m not allowed to put a fences. What can I do?
Preston-We would recommend starting a dialog with the deaprtment of public services in for your municipality and more specifically the forestry department. They can provide guidance on ordinances, etc.
Gregory Lewis says
I planted trees 3′ off property line neighbor hit and killed 16 of them. I live in no. Michigan. How much can I sue him for per tree?
Gregory- We’re not qualfied to give legal advice. You would have to contact an attorney versed in real estate and property disputes for a proper answer. Good luck and thanks for reading! -Jonathon
We have a very old maple – probably more that 75 years old and about 7-8 feet in diameter that turns out to be at least a foot over the lot line. The lot recently sold, and the new owner does not like the tree. He asked us to remove the tree for the first time before he purchased the lot, and we told him that we would work with anyone who bought the lot to trim the tree in a responsible way. Now he has purchased the lot and he wants to site his garage directly under the tree and is concerned that it will drop leaves and debris on the roof. Of all of the trees that he could have chosen to dislike – and we have a great many that will drop leaves and cast shade on his lot, most of them are inconsequential to me, but this one is a very wonderful old tree. Recently, he asked us to remove the tree, and we told him that we would work with him to have the branches that overhang his lot trimmed (as we told him the first time), but he appears to have hired someone to clear the lot and has marked two of the major sections of the tree (that branch out from the trunk about 5-6 feet from the ground) for removal, amounting to about 1/3 of the tree. I can’t tell, based on the lot markers whether the sections are entirely on his property (because it is difficult to extend the line from the markers around the tree and several others that are between them) I am concerned that this will damage the health of the rest of the tree and end up costing us thousands of dollars for removal, to say nothing of the loss of the tree itself! We do not have zoning laws in our township, and the county seems to have no knowledge of any laws either. What are the rules for this?
Heath – I would strongly recommend you consult with a real estate attorney if you are interested in determining your rights. Thanks for reading and best of luck. -Jonathon
carl booth says
i live in houghton lake my nieghbor has 27 trees ash trees that are dead or dying there is a discolored lok to some and some that are split to the top all this trees directly threaten my property and personal safty , i have talk with the land owner who said he would have them removed shook my hand and hasnt been back since i have many pics of these trees , to have already fell one hit my house and another fell on my car, am stage 4 lung cancer survior my township lake township has a ordiance but doesnt make anyone resposnabile to care for there land , since am on a very limited budget due to illness is there any one that can look at my trees for a small fee or for free , since this person is a wealthy person has the income to remove but fails to care for there land what would be my options , thanks in need of help ,, carl booth hought lake michigan lake township
Thanks for reading Michigan Gardener. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. You might consider contacting a real estate attorney who can advise you on your options. Best of luck.
I live in a mobile home community, and have 2 huge maple tree’s on both sides of my home. which hang directly over my roof on both sides. I have mentioned multiple times to the managers about the potential threat these trees are. These are 60 year+ maples that were never properly maintained, and brittle. During some severe weather I have seen big branches break off over the past 5 years, Just today during an ice storm, 2 broke off, one about 5″ diameter putting a hole in my shed like an arrow and damaging my greenhouse where I overwinter my bonsai. Glad it was my shed, and just a couple holes on my greenhouse plastic. (repairable) but someday it may be my home. Another 10″ dia, give or take, I felt it hit the ground. I have spoke to management, they will do nothing. I’m at my wits end and tired of being nervous about this issue during severe weather. I always fear for the safety of my family with these trees hanging over my head., If I could move I would. Financially, I am unable. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.
You might consider contacting an attorney that specializes in real estate and/or property rights. They may be able to give you an initial consultation at no cost. Best of luck.
Barbara Frye says
We live in Michigan next to large area of “wet lands”. I spoke to the owner couple months ago about 2 dead trees on his property line but within inches of our property. My concern is that one of these trees will fall in our driveway and corner of garage. The second tree could fall on opposite corner or on our gazebo. We are continually picking up dead branches and since we have already paid for 2 trees that fell into our property from a different neighbor, we do not want to experience that again. When I spoke with him he said he might check around to see if any friends need firewood but have not heard any other response. If these trees fall on our property are we liable for removal?
I would suggest you check with an attorney with experience in property rights. They should be able to help you. Thanks for reading Michigan Gardener!
Kelvin Lyons says
I have a tree limb that fell on my house during a storm. The tree was rotten at the bottom of the tree for many years and it set between the side walk and the street. Would that make the city responsible?
Possibly but the only way to know for sure is for you to contact an attorney that specializes in property rights/real estate matters.
Kelvin Lyons says
The tree also damaged my car i only have liability insurance. Could i hold the city responsible because the tree was rotten at the bottom?
I would consult with an attorney that specializes in property/real estate law. Best of luck! Thanks for reading!
I have a tree that that fall on my car and the person who owns the property will not pay for it and what’s to say its my job to show negligence I thought your tree your property your to take care if it I my be wrong in thinking that it property damage not ordinary negligence
I would consult with an attorney for an accurate answer. Every case is different. Thanks for reading!
I live in Michigan. Where do i find a statute or precident for liability for tree damage do to property owners neglect to take care of his damaged tree?
This is a question best posed to an attorney specializing in real estate and property rights. Best of luck.
Debra L Dabideen says
My name is Debbie. My neighbor has a very large “dirty” black walnut tree that’s growing very near our lot line. The problem is that in the autumn when the walnuts fall to the ground, the ones that fall from the massive branch overhanging my house are constantly hitting my roof. This tree is not near my neighbor’s house so is of no consequence to his roof. It’s bad enough having to clean up all the fallen nuts and branches but the constant thud for days on end is unnerving. Would you happen to know if I can have the portion of the branch that overhangs my roof trimmed backed?
Property rights vary, state to state, so we suggest you contact an attorney that specializes in property rights if you cannot obtain permission from your neighbor.
AT large oak tree fell on my car and a coworkers car which totaled both. The tree was on curb side of Dearborn residential street. The roots adjacent to side walk had been cut last year when side walk section was replaced due to buckling. After the tree fell there were no roots attached to base at all and termite damage and fungus in hollow trunk was obvious. is the city generally liable for the damage in such a case?
We would recommend contacting an attorney that specializes in real estate or propery rights matters. Best of luck. -Jonathon
Just an FYI, folks- MSU-Extension has forestry experts in some of its county offices and, if not, can refer you to the nearest one. They often can answer questions about tree health. They are not attorneys and can’t tell you about the law, but if you are questioning if the tree is in need of removal or not due to disease, do look them up.
Country Boy says
I live in a rural area. I enjoy turning deadfall into firewood and keeping my woods “clean”. A tree on my property lost some large limbs that landed on my neighbors property in a very wooded area of the property line. I can use the firewood, and if she gives me permission, I plan to clean up the limb. If she were to want the firewood, in Michigan, do one of us “own” the limb that has fallen to the ground on her property? It was my tree, but is it now her limb once it became separated from the tree? Or am I still responsible for getting it out of there? (I can’t imagine this situation will be contentious with good communication, neither one of us probably care enough to argue about it, I’m just curious before I begin the conversation.)
For an exact answer you’ll need to consult with an attorney specializing in property/real estate matters. But, we hope that is not need and your conversation goes smoothly. Thanks for reading! -Jonathon
my neighbors maple tree is right next to the fense that devides our property, the roots arer growing on our property, large branches fall from it all the time, the fungus, maple tar leaves fall all over our wood deck which we already had to replace and the branches that overhange our property have the birds pooping all over our deck as well as the leaves and bramches. can the city of Warren Michigan ask them to remove it.
Hard to say. Contact the city code enforcement department to find out for sure. Thanks for reading. -Jonathon