Utah Tree Law - Quick Tip Article
We need the oxygen trees produce to survive, but certain trees are a nuisance, including that one that is in your neighbor’s yard. Yes, you know the one. Here are some quick tips to help you understand how Utah law deals with tree disputes.
Branches that hang over the property line can be annoying for aesthetic, cleanliness, or safety reasons. Does the law allow you to cut the branches?
In most instances, yes. Property rights extend up to the sky and down into the ground. Utah law allows a property owner to cut branches up to but not over the property line. The same is true for roots.
This is known as the self-help doctrine in the context of Utah tree law. Property owners are entitled to help themselves remedy a situation that involves encroaching branches or roots. The reason the law allows self-help in this situation is that if frustrated property owners had to go to court every time their neighbor refused to trim an encroaching tree, the courts would be inundated with claims of tree nuisances.
One should, however, be cautious. In one instance, a neighbor was frustrated because of root balls and knots that protruded up from the ground into his lawn. The roots belonged to trees on the adjacent property. Instead of cutting the roots, he drilled into the roots and inserted herbicide into them. The herbicide killed not only the roots, but it travelled through the root system back to the trees, killing 12 trees on the property next door. In that instance the act of poisoning the roots went beyond the limits permitted by the self help doctrine. Those considering helping themselves when it comes to neighboring trees should not go so far as to kill the tree.
If the neighbor’s huge, leafy tree litters your yard with tons of leave and twigs, does the law require him to prevent the littering or rake up the leaves? This is an easy one. The answer is no. In 1954, the Utah Supreme Court explained why:
"To hold trees to be nuisances subject to abatement in equity, or subject to actions at law for damages, merely because leaves or twigs or even branches in the ordinary course of affairs may be blown from them onto neighbors' lots, would be to condemn to abolition all shade trees in communities sufficiently settled to have perils of such experiences. It would thus require only a short time until the prevalence of trees in this state would be reduced to the 'lone Cedar' which the pioneers found upon their entrance into Salt Lake Valley, and our communities would revert to blistering, windswept desert. Neither law nor equity could encourage, much less contribute to, such a condition.” Cannon v. Neuberger, 1 Utah 2d 396, 268 P.2d 425, (1954).
There you have it, a blistering, windswept desert! So, you have to rake up the leaves yourself.
What if someone cuts down or kills your tree? Utah law says that person can be held liable for three times the value of the tree. (Utah Code Sec. 78B-6-1002.) Yes, trees are worth money. Large, special trees may be worth $30,000 or more. Don’t be the one to cut down one of those trees or you can get sued for $90,000!
This Article provides general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult a professional regarding your specific situation.