My neighbor’s tree is damaging my property. What are my rights?

In Massachusetts, the longstanding rule (known as the “Massachusetts Rule”) is that “an individual whose property is damaged by a neighbor’s healthy tree has no cause of action against a landowner of the property upon which the tree lies.”  Shiel v. Rowell, 480 Mass. 106, 112 (2018).  What does this mean for property owners?

Falling Trees

If a healthy tree falls from your neighbor’s property onto your property, your neighbor cannot be held liable under the Massachusetts Rule for any resulting damage.  However, if you are able to prove that the fallen tree was unhealthy, your neighbor would be responsible for the damage.

Tree Branches and Roots

The Massachusetts Rule allows for a property owner to cut back to the property line branches from a neighbor’s tree that overhang onto and roots that intrude into their property (but don’t intentionally damage or kill the rest of the tree).

Do NOT Cut Down any Part of a Tree Located on Your Neighbor’s Property

Absolutely do not go onto your neighbor’s property to cut down a tree or trim back branches or roots.  The Massachusetts trespass to trees statute, G. L. c. 242, § 7, provides for TRIPLE damages against anyone that willfully cuts down, carries away or otherwise destroys a tree that belongs to another property owner.  The statute also provides for single damages against anyone that mistakenly or negligently cuts down a tree located on another’s property.  When in doubt, ask permission from the property owner (and get it in writing) and/or get a survey to determine on whose property the tree is located.

O’Connor, Carnathan and Mack LLC is a commercial litigation law firm located in Burlington, Massachusetts that helps companies and individuals resolve complex business disputes, insurance coverage disputes, and personal injury claims. Our legal team includes top-flight commercial litigation attorneys as well as dedicated personal injury lawyers. Our clients include Fortune 500 companies as well as closely-held businesses and astute individuals. We believe every client deserves the finest representation possible for a fee they can afford. Accordingly, we offer our services at rational hourly rates and on a contingency fee basis, devise our strategies to fit the amount at stake, and are open to creative alternative fee arrangements as well. Our attorneys serve clients in Middlesex County and Suffolk County, as well as throughout Massachusetts and New England. Contact us to learn more.