What Are the Penalties for Cutting Down a Neighbors Tree?

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What can happen if you cut down a neighbor tree? The answer to this question affects thousands of people who live across America every year. There are countless court cases between neighbors who live within a one-acre distance of each other and who have trees on their properties. Some people argue that the tree on their neighbor’s property is a nuisance to their property as a whole, or that it obstructs of one of the buildings on their property. In some cases, unruly neighbors take these matters into their own hands and cut their neighbor’s trees down, often causing a court battle over who was right and what the other owes. This is especially true in cases where the tree in question has caused any amount of damage to any of the property on the other side of the property line. 

Penalties for Cutting a Neighbor Tree Down

Depending on the circumstances, an individual who decides to forego the laws of property ownership and cross these lines in order to damage or cut down another  owner’s tree or trees can be charged with criminal trespass with intent to damage property. In some cases a charge of criminal mischief can be applied against a person who makes an attempt to poison or kill their neighbor’s trees intentionally, whether the individual crosses a property line or not.

  • Either of these charges is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 9 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. 
  • The individual may also have to pay to have the dead tree’s remnants removed and a new tree planted in its place.  

Other jurisdictions may simply issue a fine to the party that tampers with a property owner’s trees, as long as the tree has not been irreparably damaged or if the tree has been damaged in a manner which won’t cost money to repair. These fines are usually referred to as disorderly conduct charges, and can range anywhere from $100 to $250.  

If there is a tree that proves to cause a nuisance to your property, meaning that the tree itself poses a direct obstacle to the free use of any aspect of your property, the first thing that you should do is to contact your neighbor to discuss your position and your reason for issue with the tree itself. You may inform your neighbor of your intent to trim any branches of the tree that hang over your property, straight up from the ground in direct correspondence with the property line. In most states, you as a homeowner have this right so long as the branches do in fact hang over the property line.  

Getting Help

If you’re unsure of what the property laws in your area are, you can contact an experienced attorney. Your lawyer can explain to you what your legal options are for dealing with a problem tree so you don't find yourself in trouble with the law.

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