Your neighbor may have one or more trees, some or all which bother you. There could be several reasons: Perhaps, they block the gorgeous view you could have. The tree drops as many leaves as politicians make promises, or perhaps the tree’s branches are crossing the property line on to what is rightfully yours.
You may have been dreaming of some solution that you know wouldn’t work out in your favor should your tree-loving neighbor find out. That’s the funny thing about trees: Their removal is difficult to hide, despite stealth efforts.
What can you legally do about your neighbor’s annoying tree? Well, it turns out, not a whole lot really if you want to stay on the right side of the law. It would seem that you could at least trim the most annoying parts of the tree as they continue to grow over your fence, and perhaps you can, as long as you make sure that your trimming does not kill it. If it does, you are in big trouble, and your tree-loving neighbor can actually sue you and ask for three times the damage.
People have actually litigated this, and Washington’s Court of Appeals has held that you are entitled to cut back branches that overhang your property; however, the moment the trimming leads to the death of the tree, you have committed timber trespass, which, in turn, can lead to a timber-trespass suit for treble damages (as in triple the actual damage) and attorney’s fees, which, in reality, will most likely cost you more than the treble damages.
Another, perhaps better, alternative would be to talk to your neighbor (as in an actual conversation — not e-mail, not text — but if you must, a phone call would probably suffice) about the tree.
Perhaps your neighbor wasn’t aware of the branches encroaching on your property — after all, they probably do not spend that much time on your side of the fence. If they are really nice neighbors, perhaps they will offer to take care of it, especially if they care for their tree and would prefer it to live, as opposed to “death by excessive trimming.”
With regard to the leaves, there is actually nothing you can do. Leaves are considered a natural product, and each of us is responsible for cleaning up any natural product that falls in our yard. That includes the leaves from your neighbor’s tree that clog your gutters and pipes.
Finally, I really do understand why you would want that tree that blocks your view gone — unless you are former American League batting champ and local King County resident John Olerud, who, according to a Seattle Times article published earlier this year, received a favorable ruling from the Clyde Hill Board of Adjusters, which, for the first time, ordered a tree removed under its 1991 “view obstruction and tree removal” ordinance.
Apparently, two trees blocked 40 percent of what would otherwise be a 30-degree view of Lake Washington, Seattle and the Olympic Mountains for the Oleruds (leaving a scant 18 percent). The financial cost: $65,000 to remove the trees, plus legal fees; emotional cost; and significantly more important, loss of good neighborhood relations.
Wouldn’t it be much better if we all played nice and tried to get along?
MONICA LANGFELDT is founding partner at Queen Anne-based Langfeldt Law PLLC (www.langfeldtlaw.com).
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