A Legal Question for the Ages: Who is Responsible for Nuisance or Damage Caused by a Tree?

trees growing in cement

One of the most common questions attorneys get asked involves the situation where neighbors are disputing who is responsible for damage or issues arising from a nuisance tree growing over the property line.  Take the situation where your neighbor has a tree on their property that grows over the property line, and that tree’s roots are damaging your cement patio.  Not only that, but the leaves from the tree are staining your patio too, and there’s a real concern that a branch will fall and damage your fence.  Can you force your neighbor to take action?  Can you sue your neighbor for damages caused by their tree?

Florida Stance On Conflicts Involving Trees

The State of Florida follows the common law, and the majority rule in the United States, that “a possessor of land is not liable to persons outside the land for a nuisance resulting from trees and natural vegetation growing on the land.  The adjoining property owner to such a nuisance, however, is privileged to trim back, at the adjoining owner’s own expense, any encroaching tree roots or branches and other vegetation which has grown onto his property.”  Gallo v. Heller, 512 So.2d 215, 216 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987).

Is There a Legal Solution?

Ultimately, the answers to our hypothetical is “No,” you can’t sue or force your neighbor to act.  However, you have the right to trim back the trees or vegetation whose branches or roots are causing a problem, at your own expense.  The logic underlying this practice is that it is better to leave people to take reasonable action to protect themselves, rather than subject their neighbors and the public to lawsuits for relief, the purpose for many of which would be purely to annoy.

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