Law on tree removal

Updated March 21, 2017

Tree law, formally (albeit far less commonly) known as arboriculture law, is the legal concept of tree planting, placement, care and removal. Tree removal is arguably the most commonly contested issues in arboriculture law among neighbours, as trees can disrupt a homeowner's preferred aesthetics. More often, homeowners are interested in the law on tree removal from their own properties, intending to clear way for future construction, landscaping or yard design.

Municipal and Local Law

Review your local laws before you begin planning your tree removal. Your municipal's code will detail the law on tree removal for your area. These laws can vary significantly from state to state, even town to town, depending on where you live. For example, in rural areas, tree removal is a more common occurrence, and homeowners generally have more leeway when removing trees from their own properties. Laws on tree removal in suburban areas are more apt to focus on neighbourhood disruptions, and may require tree replacement practices. In metropolitan areas, particularly larger cities, laws on tree removal can be far more stringent.

Permission to Purge

Cities and suburban towns typically require you to seek some form of permission before you can begin removing trees. If you plan to remove the trees yourself instead of hiring a contractor, you may even need to apply for a permit. Contact your local municipal or county office to find out exactly what paperwork needs to be in place before you begin. Otherwise, you risk incurring fines or other penalties.

Neighbour Nightmares

Always discuss your intentions to begin removing trees from your property with your neighbour first, especially if you live in a tighter community. Neighbours with connecting yards may have their properties disrupted if the tree's roots spread far. Homeowners may find that they need to utilise their neighbour's property to be able to reach the tree for removal. These potential problems should be considered preemptively and thoroughly discussed with your neighbours. Obtain written permission from any neighbour whose property is at risk for disruption in the process. You will be liable for any damages caused to your neighbours' house or yard during the removal process, even if you hire a contractor to handle the work.

The Root of the Problem

Roots attached to large trees can run across property lines. Removal will disrupt the neighbour's yard, and your neighbour is liable to deny you permission once they learn this. Most towns will allow you to continue with your tree removal plans regardless, on the condition that you compensate your neighbour for any costs they incur repairing the damages. Obtain written permission from the town or county before you start. Provide your neighbour with a copy of this and let him know while he may have said no, you will continue as planned but will cover the costs of any damages his property sustains.

Disposing the Debris

Research your town's disposal laws for debris. Disposing of dead trees is the responsibility of the homeowner, and your town may have specific guidelines for how to do this. Most towns do not allow homeowners to leave dead trees at the curb for trash pickup. If you are using a contractor, the company is likely familiar with local disposal laws and may offer to handle disposal for you for a small fee.

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About the Author

Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.