The trees are everywhere in Northern Virginia. And people keep planting them to provide shade, for decorative purposes and to provide a home for birds and other wildlife. During its lifespan, a tree does require regular care and maintenance though. And, with homes being built closer and closer together, conflicts related to trees and plants (Ivy and Bamboo among others) are very common.
I have been curious about this topic and decided to look into what others say about liability for damage caused by trees and plants. For example, are you as an owner always responsible for any damage happening to your property from trees and plants – even if a tree or plant is not on your property?
From the Washington Post a few years back:
In the past, most states used the “Massachusetts rule,” which held that if a tree grew on your property but the branches hung into your neighbor’s yard, that neighbor could cut them back as far as the property line. If the roots cracked the neighbor’s patio or if the branches ripped their siding, it was their problem. And if the neighbors’ pruning killed your tree, you could sue them for damages.
As of 1997 Maryland and the District supposedly still followed the Massachusetts rule. Virginia, however, followed a different rule:
Virginia’s 1939 law was slightly different. Under that law […] a landowner could sue a neighboring tree-owner only if the tree was “noxious” and caused “sensible injury.” A big problem, however, was that no one ever defined a “noxious tree.”
Well, a famous 2007 case at the Virginia Supreme Court changed this. Again from the Washington Post:
Now, for the first time, homeowners can sue to force a neighbor to cut back branches or roots or take out the tree altogether if it poses a risk of “actual harm” or an “imminent danger” to their houses, the court ruled. Tree owners can now be held liable for any damage caused by the tree.
So, what can you do if your neighbors’ tree roots destroys your sewer line or cracks your driveway? With the 1997 ruling it seems the owner of the tree could be held responsible in a court of law.
From a practical standpoint – speak to your neighbor and try to resolve the issue before taking them to court. After all, they will likely be your neighbors long after the tree is gone.
It is also something to keep in mind before planting that new Sweetgum next to the property line…
Disclaimer: I am neither an attorney nor a tree expert. Please speak to someone qualified before doing anything to a tree belonging to someone else. Trees can be very expensive…