One of the most common categories of questions we have received on Law Call throughout the years is disputes between neighbors regarding trees. Here, we break down the law regarding these disputes.
Law to Know: Alabama applies the doctrine of cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos, which is Latin for “To whomever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and to the depths.”
There are a variety of disputes that can arise:
If a neighbor’s tree falls onto my property, can I hold them liable for damages I sustain?
It depends on whether you can prove that your neighbor was negligent.
To prove negligence in this context, you would have to prove that they knew or should have known that the tree was dying and likely to fall. You would also have to prove they then failed to take reasonable actions to prevent the tree from causing damage to your property.
If you are concerned about a neighbor’s dying tree damaging your property, try to discuss the matter with them.
If discussions are not productive, take photographs and send a letter to them addressing your concerns.
Keep a copy of the letter and the photographs. If the tree falls onto your property and someone is injured or property is damaged, you will have evidence that your neighbor was negligent.
Can I remove limbs or roots that extend onto my property from a neighbor’s tree?
Yes. In Harding v. Bethesda, 551 So. 2d 299 (Ala. 1989), the Alabama Supreme Court confirmed that a property owner has the right to remove a neighbor’s limbs or roots that extend across the boundary line onto the owner’s property.
Note: you cannot remove the entire tree if its trunk is on your neighbor’s property; you can only remove the roots/limbs that extend onto your property.
If a neighbor’s tree appears to be dying, can I force them to remove it?
No, you do not have any legal recourse to force the neighbor to remove the tree. All you can do is notify them of the situation and preserve evidence of negligence in the event you suffer damages.
What about removing trees that are on the boundary line between my property and a neighbor’s property?
You cannot remove a tree when the trunk is on the boundary line unless you and your neighbor agree to the removal. Young v. Ledford, 37 So. 3d 382 (Ala. 2009). It would be best to get this agreement in writing.