Tree disputes happen much more than you might expect in Massachusetts. These problems are most common among adjacent landowners, and can lead to major disputes if not properly addressed.
Tree disputes generally consist of two types of matters: (1) damages caused from a tree and (2) the unauthorized removal of a tree.
Whose Tree Is It?
While it may be obvious in many cases, it is sometimes necessary to determine who owns the tree at issue in the dispute. Generally, this can be figured out through a survey or plot plan.
If the ownership of the property is unknown, this (on its own) may be a separate matter to deal with.
Damage From a Tree: Healthy or Not?
Determining one’s liability from a tree comes down to a central question: is the tree healthy? Massachusetts law prohibits a tree owner from being liable from damages caused by a healthy tree. The rationale for this is that trees, naturally, will loose limbs and fall down from weather conditions.
Liability does exist for an unhealthy tree. If you own a tree that is not healthy, and it causes damage to someone else’s property, you may be liable.
Determining whether a tree is healthy will likely require an expert opinion, through an arborist or landscaping professional.
Damages From Removing a Tree Without Permission
The unauthorized removal of another’s tree is a serious offense. Such a violation can subject one to triple damages. Given the large expense of replacing a tree, this can be a significant penalty.
How to Handle a Tree Dispute
As with most disputes, it is best to see if the matter can be resolved without court action. Often, such matters can be resolved through clear communication and negotiation.
Legal action is often necessary if such matters cannot be amicably resolved. The law, importantly, allows not just for money as damages, but equitable relief, where a court can order someone to do (or not do) something.
This can be critical if immediate relief is required, such as stopping the cutting of trees or requiring a neighbor to do something about an unhealthy tree, before significant damage occurs.
If you need assistance with a tree dispute, contact me for a consultation.