A common issue facing homeowners is their or their neighbor’s responsibility for overhanging trees and branches. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court recently decided that a homeowner was not responsible for damage caused to a neighbor’s house from a healthy overhanging tree.
In that case, a one-hundred-foot-tall sugar oak tree, with branches reaching over a neighboring property, allegedly caused algae buildup on the roof of plaintiff’s home and the neighbor refused to cut it down. The plaintiff brought a claim for private nuisance and trespass claiming damages and seeking an order that overhanging branches be cut back. The lower court ruled that the plaintiff did not have a valid legal claim, and the higher court affirmed that ruling.
The Court noted that “[t]he law in Massachusetts has long been that a landowner may not hold a neighbor liable for damage caused by that neighbor’s healthy trees.” A property owner retains the right to remove branches that overhang his or her property. The Supreme Judicial Court refused to overturn this precedent, reasoning that as applied to healthy trees it simplifies the rule as to responsibility for overhanging trees and prevents a potential increase in legal claims and costs.
The case is Shiel v. Rowell, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, July 16, 2018.