Blog: Property Rights – Trees

Property Rights – Trees

The following is a brief summary of Alabama Law as it pertains to Trees and Property Owners.  This summary has citations to the Alabama Code, Alabama Case Law, and Common Law.  This summary should not be used in place of actual legal research.  It is only to be used as a quick reference and easy guide for those who are unfamiliar with the Alabama legal system and looking for general guidance. Contact an attorney if you have any real property issues. 

Can I cut down tree limbs or roots that extend onto my property from a neighbor’s tree?

 YES, but we recommend you speak to your neighbors first. It is always better to get everyone on the same page and manage expectations before taking action.  You also want to make sure that you are not encroaching on your neighbor’s property line.

“Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos”, or “to whomsoever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and to the depths”.  This is a general principle in US Law where, broadly speaking, you control what is on your property.  The Alabama Supreme Court has held that this is the case in Alabama.  Over time, they have even gone so far as to specifically state that property owners have full control of the limbs and roots that protrude onto their property from a neighbor’s tree.  “The owner of property has no duty to refrain from cutting roots of a tree that intrude upon his property”. 

– Harding v. Bethesda Regional, 551 So.2d 299 (1989) – Roots

– Drummond v. Franck, So.2d 268 (1949) – Limbs

SIDE NOTE: Ala. Code §§ 37-15-1 to 37-15-11 requires any person who may be digging near underground services (water lines, power lines, gas lines, cables, etc) to contact Alabama One Call (Huntsville Dig Info) and have any below ground services marked.  It generally takes 2 days and can save everyone a lot of hassle (especially if you aren’t sure). 

 

Can I cut down a tree that is on the boundary line of my property?

NO.

When the trunk of a tree is on the boundary line of multiple land owners, then “each landowner is deemed to own part of the tree” equally.  Since a tree cannot survive when the trunk is cut into sections, neither owner’s interest in the tree can trump the other’s interest.  Any action taken with regard to the tree, in its entirety, must be done by mutual consent of all parties.

            – Young v. Ledford, 37 So.3d 832 (2009) – Boundary Trees

 

Am I responsible if my tree falls on my neighbor’s property?

MAYBE.

Legally speaking the answer comes down to a question of Negligence.  Did the home owner have reason to know that the Tree was going to fall?  Generally, trees fall for one of two reasons: 1. The tree was dead or dying; 2. An “act of god” causes the tree to fall. 

If a wind storm uproots your healthy tree and it damages a neighbor’s property, then you are most likely not at fault and will not be liable.  If, however, your tree was showing signs of death or disease and you were made aware of these signs, then if that tree falls it is possible you will be liable for any damage it causes.  Ultimately this question is very fact specific, and the best solution is to contact an attorney and your insurance company.

 

If you have any questions regarding your property rights, please feel free to contact our office at 256-533-5252.  We will be happy to help you.  

By: Geoffrey K. Middleton
Attorney at Law
Huntsville, Alabama
Written in 2017