Trees, and their owners, can be good neighbors

By Dennis Tompkins

The Evergreen Arborist

Trees can sometimes create turmoil between neighbors. These concerns become more numerous as the winter storm season approaches.

The most common complaint appears to involve trees that are blocking someone’s view. Neighbors can also become upset about trees that shed debris onto their roofs or limbs that extend onto their property. Trees that sway during storms can scare a neighbor – despite the fact the tall firs have done so for decades without failing.

Unfortunately, sometimes an individual will take out frustrations on a neighbor’s trees without permission. Such action usually has several unpleasant consequences.

Obviously, the first casualty is relations between neighbors. Then, if amicable solutions cannot be agreed to, attorneys eventually may become involved. Often, a certified arborist will be called on to assess the damages of a cut or mutilated tree. Values can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars for some landscape trees. Such damages can be tripled for willful trespass.

Finally, there are the stressful, time-consuming and expensive activities when pursuing legal remedies.

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 tree 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 discussion of the cost sharing or tree replacement 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 as 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 notification.

If still unsatisfied, now you can call an attorney.

What is a hazard assessment?

Any tree located near a target such as a structure is potentially hazardous. Then one must consider whether most high winds blow toward or away from the potential target if such a tree were to fail.

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. It is nearly impossible to determine what is happening to a tree’s interior or to its root system. Boring with a drill or increment borer or gently digging around a tree’s base may yield some clues.

A root disease may be suspect if previous tree failures have occurred near a tree of concern. These are generally spread by root to root contact. Sometimes, healthy appearing trees can be infected. Root rots are a common cause of tree failures during severe storms in the Puget Sound area.

Many arborists have attained a designation as a “certified tree risk assessor.” While qualified individuals can perform tree evaluations, it is impossible to precisely predict what kind of or when a tree or branch failure will occur. Nonetheless, such an evaluation should help neighbors arrive at solutions that will address everyone’s concerns.

Not all tree disputes are solvable. But if neighbors maintain cool heads, communicate and compromise when addressing concerns, amicable solutions are certainly possible.

Remember that you have to live next door to your neighbor for a long time. It is much nicer to be on speaking terms across the fence rather than across the table in an attorney’s conference room.

Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist, certified hazard tree 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 at 253-863-7469 or email at Web site:

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates