Be a good neighbor: Boundary tree issues explained

Home Owners | Real Estate | Tips |

In Georgia, the ownership and control over a tree situated on the boundary between two adjoining landowners is controlled by the rule applicable to party walls.  This means that adjoining landowners of a tree on the boundary do not own the tree as tenants in common, but each owns the part of the tree which rests upon his side of the boundary line, with an easement of support from the other.  Each of the landowners upon whose land any part of a trunk of a tree stands has an interest in that tree identical with the part which is upon his land and has the right to demand that the owner of the other portion shall so use his part as not unreasonably to injure or destroy the whole tree.  Both parties have a duty to maintain the tree and take reasonable steps to guard against any hazardous condition the tree may pose.

In regard to liability for a defective tree the ordinary rules of negligence apply. The owner of a tree is liable for injuries from a falling tree only if he knew or reasonably should have known the tree was diseased, decayed or otherwise constituted a dangerous condition.  This means that a property owner has no duty to consistently and constantly check all trees for non-visible rot as the manifestation of decay must be visible, apparent, and patent so that one could be aware that high winds might combine with visible rot and cause damage.

  1. A neighbor’s tree branches hang over an owner’s property. What rights does the owner have?

  • The owner can trim the branches up to the Property line.
  • The owner cannot go onto the Neighbor’s property in order to trim the branches.
  • The owner cannot destroy the tree in the process.
  1. A tree stands directly on the property line. Who owns the tree?

  • Such a tree is a boundary tree, and each party owns the part on their property
  • Neither party can remove the tree without the other’s consent.
  • Both parties are responsible for maintaining the tree.
  1. A tree trunk is clearly on a neighbor’s property but the tree leans over onto the owner’s property. Who owns the tree?

  • The neighbor.
  1. A neighbor grades his property and in the process damages the root system of the owner’s tree and the tree dies? What are the owner’s rights?

  • The neighbor owes the owner the value of the tree.
  1. The neighbor’s tree looks like it is going to fall on the owner’s house. What can the owner do?

  • The owner can trim the overhanging branches back to the property line.
  • The owner can call the local government arborist division and should write a letter to the owner to remove after arborist assessment. Typically a dangerous tree ordinance will require the owner to remove the tree or the government will step in and require the owner to do so.
*For informational purposes only.  Not to be relied upon as legal advice.  Nothing in this blog should be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship.  MMH is not responsible for, does not endorse or accept liability for any externally linked site or its content.  MMH does not give any representation regarding the safety, reliability or accuracy of the content or materials contained on any external website.