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Ask the County Law Librarian: Danger from Unsound Trees

Sacramento County Public Law LibraryQ-
I am a renter on one side of a duplex, the duplex next to me has a tree in their backyard that is over grown and the branches cover my entire backyard. It canopies over 3/4 of my yard.

I’ve contacted my landlord but he ignores my requests. I’ve contact the renters in that duplex but they also ignore me. The handyman for the owners of that duplex lives in the other half. I’ve contacted him several times. He has even come over to look at the tree. But still nothing has been done.

No one but myself is concerned about the huge tree branches crashing down. The only person who would be affected by the crash would be me. My backyard furniture and plants would be destroyed and God forbid, my dog, cat or I’m out there when it finally comes down. I’m in between jobs and cannot afford to cut their tree, nor should I have to take this on since I am only the renter.

What rights do I have to demand either my landlord or the owners of that tree to get the tree cleaned up before major harm is done?

A-
Thank you for your question. In looking at a book called Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise published by Nolo Press, Chapter 5 deals with “Unsound Limbs and Trees”. It states that city governments can often step in to take care of, or make the owners take care of, dangerous or unsound trees.  You may want to contact Urban Forestry to see if they can determine if the tree is a danger.

It also states that a property owner always has the right to cut down dangerous limbs of a neighbor’s tree that hang over the first owner’s property. This is the right of self-help, of cutting off the offending branches up to the boundary line. The main points to remember are that a neighbor:

• may not go onto the neighbor’s property when trimming, unless it’s necessary to avert imminent danger

• may trim only up to the boundary line

• may not cut down the tree, and

• may not destroy the tree itself.

You should put your contact with the landlord in writing because if you later decide to sue to recover for damages, it would be a good idea to show that the owner refused your repeated requests to solve the problem.

As always, we suggest mediation before initiating a court action. Mediation is a voluntary process in which two or more parties involved in a dispute work with an impartial party, the mediator, to generate their own solutions in settling their conflict. Private mediators are listed in the yellow pages. Also some lawyers advertise in their phone book listing as providing mediation services. In Sacramento there is the non-profit that provides mediation services: Sacramento Mediation Center .

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian

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