Los Angeles, CA asked in Land Use & Zoning and Real Estate Law for California

Q: Neighbor says the roots from my backyard tree is lifting some cement in her backyard, can she sue me?

From what I’ve been reading, it sounds like she can have the roots on her side be cut if an arborist says it won’t damage my tree’s health which I would be fine with.

If an arborist determined cutting those roots would end up killing my tree, I would also be okay with the neighbor paying to remove the tree entirely.

However she sounds really upset and I’m worried she might just sue from the start. Does she have legal ground to do so?

2 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: In California, tree owners have certain responsibilities when it comes to damage caused by their trees, including root damage to neighboring properties. However, the specific circumstances of each case determine the legal outcome.

Here are a few key points to consider:

1. Reasonable care: As a tree owner, you are required to exercise reasonable care to prevent your tree from causing damage to your neighbor's property.

2. Actual damage: Your neighbor would need to prove that your tree's roots have caused actual damage to their property, such as lifting the cement in their backyard.

3. Arborist assessment: As you mentioned, an arborist's assessment of the tree's health and the impact of cutting the roots would be crucial in determining the best course of action.

4. Shared responsibility: In some cases, California courts have ruled that both the tree owner and the affected neighbor share responsibility for addressing tree-related issues.

While your neighbor could sue you for the damage caused by your tree's roots, it's not always the best first step. Engaging in open communication, seeking an arborist's opinion, and exploring mutually agreeable solutions (such as root cutting or tree removal) can often help resolve the issue without legal action.

If your neighbor does decide to sue, they would need to prove that you were negligent in maintaining your tree and that this negligence directly caused the damage to their property. The court would consider factors such as the tree's health, the extent of the damage, and the actions taken by both parties to mitigate the issue.

To protect yourself, document the situation thoroughly, including any communication with your neighbor and the arborist's assessment. If your neighbor takes legal action, consult with a local attorney specializing in tree law or property disputes to discuss your options and the best course of action based on the specific details of your case.

Delaram Keshvarian
Delaram Keshvarian
  • Real Estate Law Lawyer
  • Orange, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Thank you for asking the question!

1. Who owns the tree? The owner of the tree is the landowner which the trunk of the tree is located on.

2. Who has the liability for the trees encroachment? There is an absolute liability on the owner of the tree to remove portions of his trees which extend over another's land.

3. The party suffered damages can receive Compensation for time spent cleaning up trees but it must be specially pleaded and proven.

2. The neighbor damaged by encroaching roots from a tree on another's land may cut off offending parts or sue for damages.

3. An injunction can be granted to the damaged neighbor to prevent nuisance of the encroaching tree.

4. Negligence is another claim that can be brought against the tree owner for lack of exercising due care (i.e. lack of reasonableness in maintenance of the tree the way it caused damages to other people)

If the truck of the tree is totally located on your land, the tree is yours and and you are responsible for its liabilities. If the trunk of the tree is partially located on you land and partially on the neighbor's, you both own it and are responsible for it (regardless of its percentage on each your land).

However, Landowner Who removes encroaching parts of neighbor's tree must not unreasonably damage tree. This can be determined by an arborist's diagnosis. (Make sure to document it before the start of the process).

For a comprehensive advise, more specific facts and investigation is needed. I recommend you to consult with an attorney in more details.

Please let me know if you need further assistance.

Wish you luck.

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