Unknowingly cut couple of trees that were on property line

CKentJanuary 14, 2014

Hello all-

Hope all are doing great.

This is my first post so pardon any ignorance about posting.

So I am new homeowner (2 yrs) and I have been really harassed by neighbors dogs that are crapping in my yard, lawn.

Almost all neighbors around me (front, left ) have dogs. I am work from M-F so I am not really sure whose dogs are really crapping in my yard. Anyway, that is the not the problem here.

Finally I decided to put a fence around my property to take care of this issue. I never complained to my neighbors as I did not have any idea whose dogs are really the culprit.

I had 3-4 trees on the property line. Since I wanted to put a fence and my assumption so far was that those are my trees, I cut those tress from the bottom and that is where this all started. Note that I did not have an idea whether trees were on property line.

Next day my neighbor (old gentleman) came to me and and in kind of pissed sound told me that I cut his (he initially claimed those were his trees) trees and he needs those back (in whatever ways).

He then showed me the property line and then I realized that the trees were actually on the property line and not entirely on his side. Anyway, that doesn't really help me as I understood that, tress that are on property line are property of both and no one neighbor can just go and cut those.

My neighbor mad a big deal out of it (tree were about 10-15 ft tall) and told me to replace those by any means.

First of all, I will admit that I should have done the due diligence on this and talked to him in advance but anyway...

What are my options here? Is this a serious deal? As I mentioned I am new home owner and do not have much idea about such issues.

My plan is to get stump removed (stump grinder method) and then replace the old trees with the similar new trees (may be 2-3 trees of height 5-6 ft each). I am planning to plant those trees completely on neighbor's side as I am not interested in having any trees there. I also want to make sure he signs a waiver after all is done and take the complete ownership of these going forward. I am also going to work with my neighbor so that he understand this.

Anyway, is this fair plan? Do you think there is something else I will liable for?

Looking forward to your help and guidance.

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Wish you would have asked first, cut later. First, I would have suggested at the very least you discuss your fencing plans with your immediate neighbors, it's the neighborly thing to do. Someone finding themselves on the other side of the fence where there has never been a fence, especially if this is a long established neighborhood could easily be offended by no neighborly notice. Knowing precisely where your property line is should have been the next step.

How much trouble you might be in could depend on how angry your neighbor is. Not every state is exactly the same but usually if the tree trunk is divided by the property line it's a "boundary tree" owned by both - removal without the consent of everyone isn't legal. It could be seen as theft, vandalism, trespass, a number of things.

You've said what you plan to do. What does your neighbor want you to do, at this point he probably has the upper hand since you've already committed the act. The man you've offended may have had nothing to do with the pets on your lawn, but happened to be in the way of your planned solution. Do you have permission to replant on his property?

The fair plan is what you will find him agreeing to, it's your neighbor who has been wronged. Will he accept 'similar' but smaller trees of your choosing? A conversation needs to take place, preceded by a heartfelt apology if you haven't done that.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 11:29PM
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You need to plant the trees back on the property line, if that is where your neighbor wants them. The trees need to be the same size and species as the ones you destroyed. Put your fence on YOUR property. That means get a survey, have them place markers, and construct the fence so it is completely on your side. How far on your side is the only thing you have to figure out. But you'll need to leave enough room for those trees.

When you talk to your neighbor, present this plan to him. You are at his mercy. Tell him that you would PREFER to plant the trees back onto his property, and see if he agrees. The fence is yours and yours only. It should go on your property, even if it is right up against the property line.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:32AM
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Hi there -

Thanks for good responses and I really appreciated that.

1. I do not have any bad relationship with my neighbor but we are also not very good friends. So far we have casual "hi"/"Bye" situations and he has used few items from me (such as trash cans when he ca maintaining his lawn).

2. I sat down with him once and went over the things. I suggested that we will plant the trees that he wants or any alternate on "his" side of the yard as we really don't need anything on line. He did not deny anything but I have to get confirmation from him.

3. Neighbor was also insisting on using the chemical injection method for killing the stubs and roots. Is this something really mandatory? I am going to talk to him and see if he is okay with stub grinding method where remove the stub and roots by using machine grinding.

4. Once the stubs are removed I will work with him on which and how many tress to plant. As I cannot replace a 15-20 ft trees, I will plant the similar type of trees that are about 10 ft or so.

5. The trees that I cut were really close to my home and driveway. Those could have caused foundation damage to my home also. Also the trees were directly below and interfering with the power line that was going into my and his house. Is this even legal to have trees like these?

6. Even if I plan the similar trees under the electric line, is this not violation of any city laws?

Thanks for all your helpful answers.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 1:21PM
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First thing you need to do is get a survey. You're going to be spending a lot of money on a fence. Do you have a set-back requirement for the fence? Hard to know where to put it if you don't know exactly where the line is. I wouldn't put too much stock in where the neighbor tells you the property line is. You might just find out the trees were actually on your property.

This post was edited by daveho on Wed, Jan 15, 14 at 14:43

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 2:42PM
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Thanks daveho.

Yes my very first plan is get survey done.

My neighbor showed me some yellow rod that was in the ground and told that this is the indicator of property line. I believe him cause it does look like something official indicator. He showed me the same thing on the other side of his house.

Based on that yellow mark (rod) two trees are actually on the property line. I still want to do survey and make sure we are on the same page on fencing and tree planting.

Any idea where I can find official survey company? As of now I just want to survey the 40-50 ft where I want to put the fence (also not sure how much survey costs).

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 3:30PM
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If the yellow rods still have the tag, the number on the tag is the licensed surveyor's ID. You can find the same person who did the original survey, if they are alive and still practicing. Another route would be to go down to the county assesor or recorder's office and pull the file on your property. Any official survey of record will be included with the plot plan of your lot.

This could save you the cost of having a new survey. The existing markers may be an official survey of record. If they are not officially on record, and they are not bearing the ID tag of a licensed surveyor, they don't really mean anything.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 4:06PM
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Thanks aidan_m...

Yes there is some id on the rod. It is two characters and then 4 digit number.


How do I find license surveyor based on this tag (Any website etc)?

I will also visit the county assesor or recorder's office. Are these two separate places?

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 4:12PM
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Not sure where you live, but this is how to do it in california:

Side note: I just checked out the license of the surveyor who put markers on my property corners 15 years ago, hired by the previous owner. Only problem is that he was off by about a foot. On a tenth of an acre parcel, that foot is actually significant. I see that he surrendered his license last year. That was likely due to disciplinary action. I wonder if he screwed up many surveys like that and if that was the reason he lost his license.

Make sure you check out the county assessor's records. If it's not a survey of record it's not official. Even if it's not official, the survey markers can still be quite useful. From the assessor's records, you will also be able to obtain a plot plan of your lot and your neighbors'. It sounds like the houses are near enough to the property line that the distance can be accurately measured with a tape measure. You and your neighbor can mutually agree that the existing markers are in the correct place, if all the dimensions and setbacks measure out according to the plot plans. That is, IF your neighbor wants to proceed in that manner. If you both agree the markers are in the correct place, it may be wise to call the original surveyor back and hire them to make it an official survey of record. (If it isn't already)

Here is a link that might be useful: license check for professional engineers and surveyors

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 7:40PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

I agree, no need to hire a surveyor if you can find the survey info at the assessor's or recorder's office, and you are both in agreement the markers are in their correct places. Not that anyone would move them, but you don't know either him or the former owners of your house well, so it is proper procedure to verify. It sounds like there is a marker on his other side, so a tape measure with the existing survey in hand should do it.

I would not use tree killing chemicals where planting a new tree. What kind of trees are they? Unless they are a very aggressive re-sprouter, grinding will do it.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 3:28PM
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Thanks toxcrusadr for your response.

These trees are Poplar trees.

Also, is this something generally covered by home insurance policy? I talked to my insurance company but they are not sure and think that I should file a claim to investigate. I don't have much hopes though.

Anyway, I am planning on going to City office and county office to see the records of my land survey.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 7:42PM
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I know that, in Mass., any part of a tree that crosses a property line is the responsibility of that property owner. So, for instance, if you wanted limbs from a tree where the trunk is fully on the neighbor's property, YOU are responsibly for hiring someone to cut that limb down.

Sounds to me like maybe you need new neighbors. I agree with the people who say you should have spoken to your neighbors first, that it is the neighborly thing to do, but so is not allowing your dog to crap on someone else's property (and leaving it there when they do). It's also neighborly to allow neighbors to make mistakes and to be gracious about it, not pills. An elderly person should be more empathetic to a young, first-time homeowner and treat a human being better than he treats his trees.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 2:53PM
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Just curious:

- Is it allowed for someone to plant a tree right on the property line?

- How would you trust the survey markers without another survey to verify their accuracy if you could not find original, official survey? what if survey markers have been moved?

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 1:18PM
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Sorry, but there is absolutely no excuse for doing anything on/near your property line without knowing where the line is. The OP is entirely in the wrong here and must make it right. The elderly neighbor is not wrong to be upset. Empathy has nothing to do with it. Being young is not excuse for ignorance. Just figure out where your property line is, replace the trees, be nice to your elderly neighbor who was there first, and move on with a lesson learned.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 2:53PM
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yeah. Why be decent human beings over a tree, when you can be nasty and self-righteous instead?

And FYI: Being young IS an excuse for ignorance, as is being a first-time homeowner.

What there is no excuse for is being mean, rude, etc., over an honest mistake.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 11:59AM
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Sounds to me like the OP is the one being nasty by trying to get out of the obligation to replace the trees in kind. It's not nasty, mean or rude for his neighbor to insist on the honest mistake being made right.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 2:09PM
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Thanks for all the comments, positive or negative. Of course you don't know me or my neighbor so that is expected.

1. First and foremost, I want to do the survey and make sure the neighbor's survey is accurate. So far I have not found anyone who is doing survey only for one side for under $1000. This is unbelievable but I guess that's how the rates are.
2. I have created a claim with my insurance company. Not sure what the outcome will be but right now they are "investigating".
3. Well I am not being "nasty" or whatever that implies. If I were, this could have been gone in different direction. I am working with my neighbor and figuring out what needs to be done. So far we are on the same page. We have decided which trees to plant and who to call for getting work done.

Anyway, overall this is good lesson learned for me. If this situation was reversed and I was in that neighbor's shoes; I would have let go all this. I am not saying this for the sake of saying because now I am the one who is culprit but anyway... This is important lesson for me because if something like this happens in future from neighbors, I know what to do.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 2:51PM
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I'm not sure you still understand how inconsiderate you were. I don't mean a bad person, and I'm not trying to insult or even scold you, I just don't think you are seeing it from someone else's point of view.

You felt imposed on by finding dog poop on your lawn, but cutting down some one elses landscaping should be overlooked? It takes decades to grow trees, 3 minutes to pick up after a wandering dog.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 8:20PM
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CKent, I realize it is upsetting that the survey and the new trees will be so expensive, but this is part of home ownership and paying for mistakes.

Check with the property records office for your county/town/city. They may have survey records and will also be able to explain the "regs" for planting on the property line, building a fence, etc.

As for the insurance, I don't believe they will pay for something that you did. Most of us with houses know to not contact the insurance company unless it is for damage that will cost a huge amount of money. We don't contact them for little things because some companies keep a record and will raise your insurance rates.

Just for the record, I agree with Morz8. Your elderly neighbor might have planted those trees as saplings long ago and lovingly watched them grow. Now that they are not there, and you are unwilling to buy trees equally tall, his loving efforts are for naught. You basically destroyed his property, which could also have an impact on his property value.

Welcome to home ownership!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 1:10PM
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Why did you call the insurance company over a couple of small trees? That makes absolutely no sense!

You only call your homeowner's insurance for the "big" claims.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 5:33AM
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When any 'decisions' are made between you and your neighbor, put them to paper and sign (may involve an attorney, or at least a witness or 2). You don't want to be learning any more lessons in this mess, such as "he said, he said."

And yes, you only make an insurance claim over major expense possibilities.

You need to take a class in Homeowners 101.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 6:04AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Wondering how this turned out, we haven't heard from the OP since January.

One question concerned planting trees under a power line. Generally that is frowned upon unless small trees are used. My city does not prohibit tree planting BUT they will mangle large trees when trimming them, which they have the right to do in the power line easement. Better to plant short ones.

In your case it sounds like this is under the lines going from the pole to each house, i.e. the 'drops'. Big trees under these can knock out the power to the house, so it's your choice. I would not plant a fast-growing poplar under those lines.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 4:27PM
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You can cut limbs which hang over your property. So even if tree is on the line, unless you cut it down, he has no complaint.

Whoever planted trees ON the line was an idiot.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 9:32AM
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You are only allowed to cut limbs overhanging your property from a neighbors tree (here, at least) if you can do it in a way that does not reduce the value of the tree, does not disfigure its shape, and not in a way that would cause permanent damage to the tree.

Removing branches without regard to the health of the tree is not legal.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 12:39PM
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