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Trees can present liabilities to homeowners

A homeowner sought advice from a real estate professional about potential liability for the 250-year-old oak in the backyard because it extended over the next-door neighbors' property line.

The branches had been trimmed on the property owner's side by a previous owner, but they continued to grow on the side over the neighbor's yard. Because of this, the tree became lopsided and now leans slightly in the neighbors' direction.

The concern was that, due to its advanced age, the tree would eventually topple at some point. Given its present angle of tilt, it could fall on the neighbors' house. The homeowner was reluctant to have it cut down due to cost and aesthetics, but wanted to legally be in the clear.

In this case, the law is clear. The oak is the responsibility of the present homeowner. While the neighbors have the right to prune branches hanging over their property line, the branches create a nuisance. The neighbors would have a right to sue, especially if any damages arise from the branches or entire tree falling.

While it might not be necessary to remove the tree, an arborist can identify hazards, disease and decay and propose remedies. It is far better to be proactive than continue to allow dangerous property conditions to present a liability.

If your property is jeopardized by landscaping features or hazards from adjacent buildings that have become unstable, you may have a cause of action to file a lawsuit on the grounds of premises liability. To find out your rights in the matter, you could turn to a Manhattan legal or real estate professional for guidance.

Source: The New York Times, "Keeping a Fire Escape Clear," accessed Aug. 27, 2015

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