My neighbor's tree has huge branches hanging over the property line and above the area where I park my car. I have asked him to remove the branches because I fear damage to my car from sap and falling branches, but he will not. In Massachusetts, can he be held liable for any damage his tree causes? Anonymous.
Editor's response regarding neighbors and trees:
Probably not. Massachusetts courts have held that a landowner's failure to prevent the falling of branches or sap from a healthy tree onto a neighbor's property cannot be the basis of a finding of negligence or private nuisance. The answer may be different if your neighbor has a dead or dying tree that he knows may pose a risk to you or your property. In other words, if the neighbor negligently allows a dying tree to remain in place, and that tree falls and causes damage to property, the property owner may have recourse. You are not helpless, however, in your efforts to protect your car. Massachusetts law recognizes a right of self-help with respect to roots and branches that intrude into or above your property. As long as you do your cutting at the property line and take care not to destroy the tree in question, you can prune any branches that overhang your property. for more information or to post a question, visit our MA Real Estate Law Discussion Forum.
Or, you can read these cases as sources and examples of the law cited above:
Macero v. Busconi Corp., Civil No. 99-03577E (Middlesex Super.Ct.), 12 Mass. L. Rep. 521 (2000). "Massachusetts law recognizes a right of self-help by which a property owner can cut the limbs or branches of a tree that invade his property as long as such cutting is done at the property line. A neighbor has the right to remove so much of the tree as overhangs his property....This court finds that this right to self-help is not confined to those parties who can show that their property was sufficiently damaged to justify their right to exercise self-help. The remedy is open to any party whose property is invaded by intruding boughs and roots."
Ponte v. DaSilva, 388 Mass. 1008 (1983). "The failure of a landowner to prevent the blowing or dropping of leaves, branches, and sap from a healthy tree onto a neighbor's property is not unreasonable and cannot be the basis of a finding of negligence or private nuisance."