Trees are an important part of life. However, because of their constant change, not all trees remain appropriate or convenient in the location that they were planted originally. Moreover, the same tree that provides one neighbor shade, beauty and comfort, can sometimes annoy another neighbor by blocking views, staining cars, lifting sidewalks, and interfering with sunlight to solar panels. As a result, tree disputes can be a very emotionally charged topic.
In approaching tree disputes, the natural starting place is to determine who owns the tree. Is the tree located in the common area, or is it located on one unit owners separate property? More specifically, the ownership of a tree is determined by the location of the trunk of the tree. Generally, if the trunk of a tree originates entirely on one person's property, then that person owns the tree, has certain rights in the tree, and is liable for any damage caused by the tree.
However, if the trunk of the tree straddles a property line, even just a little bit, then both property owners own the tree. This is true no matter what percentage of the trunk is on one side of the property line. In such a case, both neighbors would have equal ownership of the entire tree, and equal liability for the tree. Because ownership is an important part of tree dispute analysis, an Association should consider consulting with a licensed surveyor to confirm on whose land the tree is actually located.
In addition, the analysis of rights, liabilities, and remedies concerning trees can be highly complex. As a result, it is also appropriate for an Association to consult with a licensed arborist regarding what options are available, and with an attorney to advise on the best legal course of action.