Question: My neighbor’s tree branches cross over the property line onto my property. When the winds pick up, they rub against my roofline, causing damage to the eaves and shingles. I had to pay a roofer a few hundred dollars to come out and repair the damage. I know that I can go out there and trim the branches myself, but my age is starting to hamper my ability to do that.
I have done that in the past, but the thought of going up on a ladder or trying to cut these branches myself from the roof could end up in a major disaster. I have asked my landscaper to trim back the branches, and he charges me extra to do that. Can I just go over and hand my neighbor the roofer’s bill? What about the extra money that I have to pay a landscaper? Can I get that back from her?
Answer: As you mention, you have the right to use “self help” measures in this circumstance — the right to go and cut the branches that overhang the property line. But it’s the cost of these measures that have you bothered. You are understandably tired of having to pay your own landscaper for work that your neighbor should be doing herself.
Your question isn’t so much directed at identifying the problem — the overhanging tree branches — but rather with your available legal remedies. Whatever you have paid the roofer constitutes actual damages from the branches. The law is clear that you can recover those damages from your neighbor. Of course, the formal means for obtaining payment is to bring a lawsuit against your neighbor — something you may not be in a rush to do.
In addition to seeking money, the overhanging branches of the tree can constitute a nuisance. Like barbeque smoke or loud noise, a nuisance is something that interferes with your use and enjoyment of the property. You have the right to go to court and seek to abate the nuisance, i.e. obtain a court order that prohibits the continuing injury to your property from the tree branches.
To obtain a court order enjoining the tree branches, a party is required to point to some damage the tree is causing or some way in which it interferes with your use and enjoyment of the property. In other words, a party can’t just locate a tree branch that crosses the property line, cry foul and go to court for an order banning the encroachment. There must be some actual damage caused by the branch. In your question, however, you have actual damages from the trees. You can point to the bills from the roofer and the landscaper to show that you have had to come out of pocket to address this problem.
Frankly, your neighbor may not even be aware of the problem, or she might think that you are fine dealing with it the way you have been. Bring the matter to her attention. Depending on her position, you may have no choice but to take her to court. But prior to any court action, there are local options tailored for this kind of issue. Here in our area we have the “Yolo Conflict Resolution Center,” with locations in Woodland and Davis. It is a nonprofit entity that offers low-cost mediation services for neighbor disputes exactly like this one.
I trust that your neighbor, when alerted to the problem, will take the appropriate action. She is clearly responsible for the bill, but you will have to employ a softer touch than just throwing it at her. Perhaps she will cover the cost of the roof repair or the additional cost of your landscaper. Maybe she will even address the matter herself. You should be able to peacefully resolve this. Extend an olive branch, and it might result in her taking care of her own branches.
Preston Morgan is a partner at Kopper, Morgan & Dietrich, a Davis law firm providing family law, estate planning and trust litigation representation. His column is published every other week in the Davis Enterprise. To pose a question to Preston Morgan, contact him at https://kopperlaw.com.
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