What Can I do About my Neighbor’s Tree?


100_2643Imagine you are working on a project and your neighbor’s tree is coming up against your wall, or the roots are coming into your property and you want to put in a pool and or a fence. You might start cutting all the roots on your property or even begin cutting the top of the tree on your side.
But what happens if your neighbor’s tree starts to decline and die from the actions you took on your own property?
There are seven civil codes in the state of California that reference trees and tree law, and one of those civil codes is specific to ownership of trees. That code says that if the trunk of the tree is sitting on your property, you own it and it is also your responsibility to take care of that tree. These codes also say that if you cause your neighbor’s tree to die by actions you take on your property, you could be sued.
We often get calls from clients who say they don’t like that the roots from their neighbor’s trees. They claim the roots are growing on their property or that they are damaging their foundation, or even their gas meter.
What can you do? First, we recommend you get WRITTEN permission from your neighbor before Gruett comes in and begins work. Getting written permission from your neighbor not only allows us to legally begin work on their tree, but it also informs them on the risk that is imposed when cutting back roots. The tree will not always die if you cut the roots. It depends on how many you cut, and how you cut, and what condition the tree is in presently. There is a lot that needs to be taken into consideration before you just go whacking random roots.

If you cut your neighbor’s roots and the tree eventually dies, you could be held liable for up to three times the value of the tree. That cost can be considerable especially if the tree is a big one. The client might say: “I don’t mind if I have to pay three times the value of the tree. I saw a tree like that at Home Depot for $100.”
We’re not talking about the value of the tree when you get it from the nursery in a pot.  You have to assess the tree and take into account many factors, including the size and age of the tree and how it’s been cared for.  The tree’s current value will be assessed and, for example, it could be worth $10,000, so you could possibly be liable for three times that much. That determination is made by the courts, the insurance company and by attorneys… not by you.
At Gruett, we take every action possible in order to cut the roots back in the least invasive way, is beginning with a complete site survey is usually the best step to take first. Others may speculate and dig perhaps a foot below the ground, basing all of their decisions on what they see in that first foot below the surface, when the real story is farther below the ground. Pneumatic tools, and industry grade equipment are used to expose all of the roots, allowing us to see what we couldn’t under normal conditions. We call this exploratory surgery. We want to base our decisions on actual circumstantial evidence and not on what we think might be happening “below the surface”.

Because weigh less than soil, they are buoyant. Pushing all that soil away from the roots cause them to come up and become visible. Doing this makes it easy to distinguish which roots are the structural roots and which are less vital. We may even leave a lot of roots alone and intact.
Gruett will also finish the procedure with a specific treatment, preventing the tree from entering any sort of shock.
So with the combination of the treatment and easing the shock by making necessary and clean cuts, we make a positive difference in the way the tree heals.