Tree concerns spark neighborhood battles | Evergreen Arborist

Trees and neighbors sometimes do not mix very well. Bad blood can be the result unless cooler heads prevail.

While safety is usually a major concern, a common complaint involves trees that are blocking someone’s view. I am amazed at the lack of tolerance and respect some homeowners demonstrate toward a neighbor’s tree or trees that “violate” a view of Puget Sound or Mount Rainier.

Neighbors can also become concerned over trees that shed debris onto their roofs or limbs that extend onto their property. Unfortunately, sometimes an individual will take out frustrations on a neighbor’s trees without permission. Such actions have several unpleasant consequences.

Obviously, the first casualty is relations between neighbors. If amicable solutions cannot be agreed to, attorneys eventually may become involved. If legal remedies are pursued, the issues often involve stressful, time consuming and expensive activities.

I have often been called on to assess the damages to a cut or mutilated tree. Values can range from hundreds to many thousands of dollars for some landscape trees. Such damages can be trebled for willful trespass.

How to avoid nasty confrontations

The following common sense approaches should be considered before plotting against a neighbor’s tree.

If neighbor relations are friendly, discuss your concerns and present well thought out options. If appropriate, offer to cover or share costs of tree removal or trimming. Or consider offering to replace the offensive tree with a more suitable one or other vegetation.

If you believe a neighbor will be reluctant to listen, attempt to explain your concerns and ask what he/she would recommend if they were in your shoes. Hopefully, this approach would lead to a thoughtful discussion of cost sharing, tree replacement or other options.

If the neighbor still balks and you are worried about a tree’s safety, consider having a hazard assessment done by a certified professional. If a tree is deemed hazardous, share the report with the neighbor and attempt to arrive at some type of a compromise. After all, a hazardous tree may threaten the tree owner as much, if not more, than you.

If all of these steps fail, call your insurance agent before firing up the chain saw. He will likely recommend a hazard assessment and that a report be sent to him, the owner of the tree and his insurance company. If the neighbor ignores warnings and a hazardous tree fails, then his insurance company becomes liable. A letter simply expressing concern by a neighbor without a professional evaluation may not be deemed as sufficient or as an objective notification.

If still unsatisfied, now you can call an attorney.

What is a hazard assessment?

Any tree that is located near a target such as a structure is potentially hazardous. However, before its fate is determined, its condition should be evaluated by an experienced arborist.

A tree’s health can be partially determined by inspecting for dead branches, rotted cut surfaces, cracks or visible decay in a trunk, fruiting bodies of decay organisms or other signs of abnormalities. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to determine what is happening to a tree’s interior or to its root system.

A root disease may be suspect if previous tree failures have occurred near a tree of concern. Sometimes, healthy-appearing trees can be infected. Root rots are a common cause of whole tree failures during severe storms.

Many arborists have attained a designation as a “certified tree risk assessor.” This designation recognizes the passing of an intensive examination following completion of a special tree risk class. While such qualified individuals can perform risk assessments, it is impossible to predict what kind of or when a tree or branch failure will occur. Nonetheless, such an evaluation plus cool heads, communication and compromise should help neighbors arrive at win-win solutions that will address everyone’s concerns.

Remember, it is much nicer to be on speaking terms across the fence rather than a face-off across the table in an attorney’s conference room.

Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist, certified hazard tree risk assessor and Master Gardener from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area. He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners and businesses. Contact him with questions at 253-863-7469 or email Website:

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