By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Real Estate Attorney
It’s an all-too-common scenario where trees on the property of one person end up growing up and out and interfering with the property of their adjacent neighbor(s). People fight with each other all the time because an oak tree (which has been there since before the Stone Ages) has one of its branches sticking across the fence and is starting to drop leaves into the neighbor’s backyard. The neighbor complains to the town, zoning board, anyone that will listen and also to take the tree down. Well in Carlstadt, New Jersey, the issue wasn’t whether the mulberry tree in the owner’s yard was intruding across the property line. The issue involved the roots of the tree. The neighbor, cried foul to the Superior Court claiming the roots were unsettling the retaining wall that separated the two properties. The owner never planted the tree, but had trimmed it every year, never touching its roots.
In a 13-page opinion, the Court ruled that the tree was a natural condition in the backyard because it had not been planted there by the owner, and therefore, the owner had no duty to his/her neighbor to repair the damaged retaining wall. Had the owner planted the tree there herself, or had taken steps to “preserve” it, such as fertilizing it, she could have been liable. Instead, she was simply cutting the tree’s branches, which the Court held did not show that she was preserving the tree. Therefore, the Court held the owner was not liable to her neighbor for the price of fixing the retaining wall.
You should always be taking steps to make sure the trees on your property are not intruding onto another property and causing a problem. But if you inherit a tree on your property, and do not do anything affirmative to keep it alive, then you cannot be held responsible if the tree were to do damage to a neighbor.
To discuss your NJ Real Estate matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.