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Who is Responsible for Trees Overhanging Roads?

It is the responsibility of the local municipality or the state, depending on where you live and the road in question.

Just like road maintenance, the state is responsible for state roads, the county is responsible for county roads and towns are responsible for town roads. In cities, all roads are maintained by the local government. So if a tree is down or is overhanging the road, whoever manages the road clears it.

Have it in mind that most main thoroughfares are state roads, meaning the state Department of Transportation is responsible for getting trees and limbs out of the street. Town roads are usually smaller side roads. However, rights and responsibilities for trees in front of houses vary across states and municipalities.

For instance, residential yards abutting public roadways are often overlain by a right-of-way adjacent to the pavement that permits the municipality or state to maintain the road and related infrastructure. Trees are often planted by the municipality or state in the right-of-way for amenity, engineering, and environmental purposes.

Most times, the municipality or state retains authority and responsibility for the trees. But sometimes, the municipality legally transfers responsibility for street trees to the adjacent landowner. Should a homeowner elect to plant a tree in the right-of-way, the homeowner may involuntarily relinquish ownership of the tree to the municipality or state due to right-of-way control.

Always note that these rights and responsibilities are clearly defined in municipal ordinances, administrative codes, or state laws. But if a tree trunk is on your property, you are responsible for maintaining it. You are responsible for making sure any tree on your property is healthy and there are no known hazards.

Trees are not meant to be planted on the right-of-way without first consulting local authorities because they may potentially create conflicts or hazards. The municipal department of public works or the state department of transportation can help clarify the rights and responsibilities of roadside trees. Here are a few factors concerning tree maintenance and care in the United States.

Factors Affecting Tree Maintenance and Care

  1. Tree Hazards

Note that if a tree trunk is in your property, you are expected to inspect your property for signs of diseases or rot on a consistent basis. You are also expected to look for any weak or damaged branches. If any portion of a tree that was a known hazard falls and damages your neighbour’s property, you will likely be responsible.

Also note that if your neighbour gives you a warning about a tree or portion of a tree that they feel is a hazard or files a complaint with the town about a tree on your property that they believe to be a hazard, if you do nothing to address this concern and any portion of the tree falls on the neighbour’s property, you may be liable for any damage caused.

Also, if a complaint is filed with the town, the town may require you to remove the tree, or they may even come to remove it themselves.

  1. Debris From Overhanging Branches

Also note that if leaves, acorns, twigs or other debris from a nearby tree (on your neighbour’s property or on the road) falls onto your property, you are tasked with cleaning this debris up. Even though the tree trunk is not on your property, anything from the tree that falls onto your property is your responsibility. These items are not considered damaged.

  1. Fallen Trees

If the tree on your property or a portion of the tree falls onto your neighbour’s property and the tree was well maintained with no sign of disease or rot, any damage caused will be your neighbour’s responsibility. Have it in mind that most insurance companies in the United States will cover the claim as long as they deem it an Act of God because this situation could not have been anticipated by a reasonable person.

  1. Diseased Trees

Also, if a tree on your property or a portion of your tree falls on your neighbour’s property and the tree has obvious signs of disease or rot, or if your neighbour had filed a complaint with the town or with you about the hazard, you may be liable for any damage caused.

Also, note that you could be considered negligent for failing to remove a known hazard before the damage occurred or for failing to properly inspect and maintain the trees on your property.

  1. Overhanging Branches on Your Property

Even if the tree trunk is on your neighbour’s property or on the road, you are mandated by law to cut any branches that extend onto your property line.

You are responsible for the cost of cutting any branches you choose to trim. Also, note that you can cut back anything up to your property line. You must take care; however, that any maintenance you perform on the tree branches does not damage the rest of the tree.

Note that if your actions cause damage or ultimately kill a tree that is not yours, you may be found liable for up to three times the replacement cost of the tree. Depending on the size and type of the tree, the typical replacement cost can be anywhere from $500 to $3000. Some rare trees can be valued at tens of thousands of dollars.

  1. Trees Blocking Scenic View

Have it in mind that a handful of cities have a “view ordinance,” which states that a scenic view is an important part of a home’s value. These ordinances allow you to sue your neighbour to force your neighbour to remove a tree (or the branches of a tree) that is blocking your scenic view.

Note that these ordinances are very specific, so if you live in one of the few cities that have one, you need to research the law to determine if it actually applies to you. Generally, vegetation remains one of the most important elements of roadside maintenance.

A healthy roadside environment reduces maintenance needs and costs, reduces erosion and improves water quality, improves water infiltration and reduces runoff, preserves the roadside surface, provides safety for vehicles and travellers, limits liability for the governing agency, maintains good public relations, improves the overall driving experience, and provides habitat for wildlife populations. It is the duty of both government and citizens alike to tend to trees to save and protect the environment.