First, let’s talk for a moment about your neighbor’s tree limbs. Suppose the tree itself is on your neighbor’s property, but the limbs are hanging over your fence, casting unwanted shade or shedding leaves you don’t want to pick up. This really bothers you. Can you trim the limbs even though the tree belongs to your neighbor and is on his property?
The quick answer is yes. But don’t ask your neighbor to pay for it. And don’t trim the limbs beyond the property line. If it’s a more serious matter, you might have a nuisance action for property damage.
Option 1: Self-Help—Trim the Branches Yourself
Under Tennessee law, you may, at your own expense, cut away intruding vegetation to the property line whether or not it constitutes a nuisance or is otherwise causing harm to your property.
Option 2: Nuisance Action—Bring Suit to Make Your Neighbor Pay Damages and Fix the Problem
In some cases, you may have a cause of action for nuisance. A nuisance lawsuit may be brought when tree branches or roots from the adjacent property encroach upon and damage your property. Lane v. W.J. Curry & Sons, 92 S.W.3d 355, 356-57 (Tenn. 2002).
What is a Nuisance?
In Tennessee, a private nuisance is anything which disturbs the free use of your property, or which renders its ordinary use or physical occupation uncomfortable. This extends to problems that endanger life or health, give offense to the senses, violate the laws of decency, or obstruct the reasonable and comfortable use of property.
Encroaching trees and plants are not nuisances just because they cast shade, drop leaves, flowers, or fruit, or just because they intrude upon your property either above or below the ground. However, the problem may be a nuisance if it causes actual harm or poses an imminent danger of actual harm to your property.
Example of a Nuisance Case
The Lane case represents a pretty extreme case of nuisance. In that case, the trees at issue caused a hole in the plaintiff’s roof and water from that hole ruined her ceilings and stove. In addition, the plaintiff had severe plumbing problems as a result of encroaching tree roots. She was not able to use her bathroom sink or tub for two years. Nor could she flush her toilet. Even worse, raw sewage bubbled up into her bathtub and the floor had to be replaced because the toilet continually backed up. The Court stated:
Clearly, the defendant’s encroaching trees have adversely affected the plaintiff’s reasonable and ordinary use and occupation of her home, not to mention posing hazards to the plaintiff’s health and safety. Accordingly, we reject the defendant’s assertion that its trees do not constitute a nuisance.
What’s the end result of a nuisance lawsuit?
The owner of the offending tree may be held responsible for harm caused and may also be required to cut back the encroaching branches or roots if a court finds that the encroaching vegetation is a nuisance.
If you are successful in a private nuisance action, you may be entitled to several types of remedies. A court might order that the nuisance be stopped (injunctive relief). You may also be entitled to money damages for the cost of restoring your property to its pre-nuisance condition, as well as damages for inconvenience, emotional distress, and injury to the use and enjoyment of your property.
Read more about tree limbs and the law in Tennessee by reading our previous blog post titled, “Law FAQ: My Neighbor’s Tree Hangs Over the Property Line. Do I have the right to cut back the branches?”
Need a Property Damage Lawyer?
Disputes between neighbors can be very uncomfortable. We can help, whether that means facilitating communication, fashioning an amicable resolution, or, if all else fails, filing a lawsuit. We’re here to help you find a solution that works for YOU! Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here if you need a property damage lawyer.
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