How to keep a disputed tree from igniting a neighborhood feud | The Evergreen Arborist

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

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

While safety is a major concern, a common complaint involves trees that are blocking someone’s view. Neighbors also can become upset 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 usually have 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 trebled for willful trespass.

Finally, there are the stressful, time-consuming and expensive activities if legal remedies are pursued.

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(s) or other vegetation.

If you believe a neighbor will be reluctant to listen, attempt to explain your concerns and ask what he or 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 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. Another important factor is 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 whole tree failures during severe storms in the Puget Sound area.

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 at Website: