Trees and fences and good neighbors

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I am occasionally asked questions by woodland owners that stump me. One is about trees that have fallen or were blown down onto a neighbor’s property.  Specifically, the question was about who owns the trees that have fallen from one property onto another.  Before I get to that answer, let me share some similar experiences.

One of these involved the ownership of trees along the property line.  The neighbor agreed to fix the fence between the two properties and in the process kept a few of our trees that he needed to fell to accomplish his work.  If the trees had been on the property line, they would have been owned by both families, but these were clearly ours.

Now, we could have raised a stink about this, but decided it was a small price to pay for maintaining good relations with our neighbor.  It would have been better to have had the conversation regarding who gets the felled trees while we were discussing replacing the fence.

Another situation arose when our trees along the border were overhanging and partially blocking another neighbor’s travel lane.  Rather than let us know that this was an issue for him, he took it upon himself to cut down the offending trees.  Little did he know that one of those trees was the beloved “hickory nut tree” planted many decades ago by the matriarch of the family.  You definitely didn’t want to be on the receiving end of the dressing down she bestowed upon him for that transgression.

OK, now on to the question at hand.  Here is a suggested analogy that a colleague provided that might help.  If for whatever reason some of your cattle get through your fence and stray onto the neighbors property, your neighbor doesn’t get to keep the cattle.  He may say you cannot trespass onto his property to get the cattle, and instead he will return the cattle himself.  You will need to work out a way to resolve any losses due to the damage your cattle (or trees) caused.  You may decide that your neighbor cleans up the mess but keeps the trees or something along those lines.

Damages to fence lines from falling trees will need to be resolved in a slightly different way depending on how you partitioned the fence.  You may have decided to share responsibility for the entire fence or split it in half between the owners.  If your trees fell on the half of the fence maintained by your neighbor, then you will need to work out how the issue will be resolved and who gets the wood.

Having a good relationship with your neighbor and clear understandings of how certain situations will be handled, makes this whole process easier.  If you don’t have these, then you may need to turn to your local sheriff or court to come to some resolution.