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Legal Disputes Concerning Trees: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis, instructional librarian, and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialist

It is said that good fences make for good neighbors. The same might not be said for trees, which are a frequent source of litigation among neighbors. Overgrown branches, fallen leaves, and downed trees all serve to embroil neighbors in acrimonious litigation. This Beginner’s Guide will provide you with some background and provide resources that can help answer your questions about disputes among neighbors concerning trees.

Statutes and Ordinances

As you might note when you begin your research in this area, much of the law concerning one’s responsibility for trees can be found at the state and local levels.  These state and municipal codes and regulations can clarify a multitude of situations, such as: (1) what kind and how many trees a landowner can plant on their property; (2) whether, when, and how an owner can remove trees from their property; (3)  when a tree is owned by a landowner or the government; and (4) who is responsible when the branches, leaves, fruits, nuts, or seeds of a tree cause damage on one piece of property when its roots are on another piece of property, among many others.  The Law Library of Congress provides, through our Guide to Law Online page, links to the statute collections provided by each state.  In addition, if you need any assistance in finding your local municipal codes and ordinances, review our previous research guide, “Municipal Codes: A Beginner’s Guide.”

Print-Based Resources

Considering the frequency with which tree issues might crop up in everyday life, it might not be too surprising that there are a collection of books on the topic of tree and neighbor law in the United States.  Some of these books focus particularly on the tree law of a certain state. However, there are some resources in our catalog that take a nationwide approach:

Storm Damage. Fallen Tree on White House North Drive. Photograph by Harris & Ewing.(Created between 1913 and 1918). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.02998

Storm Damage. Fallen Tree on White House North Drive. Photograph by Harris & Ewing.(Created between 1913 and 1918). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.02998

To see if there are any tree and neighbor law resources regarding the laws in your state, consider doing a subject search in WorldCat for subjects like: “Trees–Law and Legislation,” “Trees–Law and legislation–[State Name],” “Trees in cities–Law and legislation–[State Name],” and “Adjoining landowners–[State Name].”

Web Resources

Researchers can also find legal resources regarding tree law online.  Below, find a non-exhaustive list of some of these helpful resources:

We hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any questions, please contact us through Ask A Librarian.

One Comment

  1. Mary Chansing
    August 9, 2016 at 6:05 am

    It’s such a shame when it has to come to litigation to sort out a dispute among neighbors but unfortunately it does happen – I see it in my neighborhood right now. This is a useful guide to start people off in the right direction when they are dealing with a dispute. Hopefully it will help people solve tree problems without resorting to litigation.

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