Summers in Georgia can mean hot temperatures, lots of wildlife, and a series of pop-up storms. Some of those storms can get quite violent, leading to flash flooding and downed trees. With Metro Atlanta having one of the nation’s highest urban tree canopies, falling trees can cause a considerable amount of damage. What happens if one of your neighbor’s trees fall onto your yard? Who is responsible for any repairs or cleanup? Can you take any preventative measures, like trimming your neighbor’s trees for them?
Your Neighbor’s Tree Is Hanging Over Your Property
While tree laws can vary between different counties and cities, most local rules do allow a homeowner to trim any tree branches that are overhanging their property. This could be for preventative measures (the homeowner is afraid a branch will fall onto their garage) or aesthetic measures (the branch is obstructing their view). Be sure to double-check with local ordinances and your Homeowners’ Association, though, prior to removing any tree limbs.
Before you begin the trimming process, you may also want to talk to your neighbors. Not only is this a simple courtesy, but also, you and your neighbor might be able to reach an agreement about pruning the tree for safety reasons. You could avoid future disputes with your neighbor if they know that you’re planning on trimming their tree, and your reasoning for it.
While a homeowner does have the right to trim any overhanging tree limbs, there are two stipulations. First, the homeowner can only cut the part of the tree that crosses their property line. They cannot trespass onto their neighbor’s property or cut anything beyond their property line. Second, the homeowner’s actions should not lead to permanent damage of the tree. If a homeowner trims branches, cuts tree roots, or treats part of the tree with a chemical – and this damages or kills the tree – then the homeowner can held liable. The neighbor who owns the tree could sue for the cost of replacing the tree, the expense of trying to save or remove the damaged tree, or even the diminished value of their property.
Your Neighbor’s Tree Fell onto Your Property
Under Georgia’s Fallen Tree Responsibility laws, if a tree falls on someone’s property, it is the homeowner, and not the owner of the tree, who is responsible. In other words, if a tree is rooted in your neighbor’s yard and crashes down onto your property, it is your problem. You would have to pay for any repairs or cleanup.
An exception to this is if the tree was visibly diseased or dead prior to it falling over. In that situation, the neighbor who owned that tree would be responsible for any damages. So, for example, let’s say your neighbor has a dead tree in their front yard, and it falls onto your driveway during a storm. Because the tree was compromised before it fell, the neighbor would be responsible for covering any property damage as well as the costs of hauling away the tree.
If your neighbor’s tree falls onto your yard, the first step is to make sure the area is safe. Trees can often pull power lines down with them, and trees are also conductors of electricity. So, it’s important to make sure that there are no downed power lines or live wires. Your second step should be to take photos. A picture can show whether the tree had visible signs of disease or decay. Taking photos is also a good way to document any damage to your yard or other property. The third step is to call your homeowner’s insurance agent. They can help evaluate the damage, explain your options, and let you know if you have a claim. Whether your insurance will cover the damage depends on who owned the tree, its condition prior to falling, and whether the tree fell on your property (ex: house, garage, vehicle) or just your yard. Once you have spoken to a claims adjuster, your fourth step will likely be coordinating the safe removal of the tree.
Have Additional Questions? Contact the Real Estate Team at Brian M. Douglas & Associates
If you have any additional questions about Georgia’s laws on tree trimming or who is responsible for fallen trees, please reach out to our real estate team. We would be happy to speak with you. You can reach us at (770) 933-9009 or via our contact page.