Skip to main content

Help! My neighbor’s old tree is growing over my roof

Let’s say about 100 years ago, a family planted an oak tree on the edge of their property. Over generations it’s grown into a magnificent tree that provides summer shade, autumn color and a swing for the neighborhood kids. You probably even liked the tree when you bought the house next door to it.

But today, its root system is invading your basement, its acorns bombard your yard and its huge limbs loom threateningly over your roof. By law, can you cut it down? Trim it? Turn it into a boat?

First, Determine Who Owns the Tree
You may assume the oak in question is part of the property where it was originally planted. However, in Illinois, tree ownership is based on the location of the trunk at the ground—and not the roots or branches.

A boundary tree straddles the property line
and is jointly owned by both property owners

Since this tree was planted on the edge of the property, look at the base of its trunk. If the trunk of the tree straddles the property line (even by just a few inches), it’s a boundary tree, which means the tree is jointly owned by your neighbor and you.

For a boundary tree, you share the responsibility of its care and or destruction. In fact, neither neighbor has the right to cut, damage, or significantly modify a boundary tree without the permission of the other.

An encroaching tree has its trunk on one side of the
property line and grows into a neighboring property

It’s an encroaching tree if the trunk base stayed on the neighbor’s property. The tree—and its responsibility—is considered theirs. If so, talk to your neighbor. Let them know they are required to ensure their trees’ roots or branches don’t cause damage to your property—and that they are liable for the damage.

And if They Still Do Nothing?
You have the right to protect your property from damage. You can trim a neighbor’s tree branches or roots without asking as long as you don’t enter their property.
Yet take care not to kill or harm the encroaching tree. If so, you would be liable for up to three times the tree’s value, which the Department of Natural Resources determines, under the Wrongful Tree Cutting Act.

In short, talk to your neighbor before doing anything to a boundary tree. And it’s generally safe to trim your neighbor’s trespassing branches and roots without asking—as long as you don’t enter the neighbor’s property or harm the tree.

Did that leaf you with questions? Send me an email. While I don’t handle tree encroachment lawsuits, it’s a problem that often comes up in my real estate transactions.

Written by Susan Jenks for Michael H. Wasserman, P.C.

John Roska: Neighbors can eliminate tree encroachment within limits
Illinois Laws on Property Disputes Between Neighbors
When a Neighbor Damages or Destroys Your Tree
Who owns the tree on both my and my neighbor's property?


Popular posts from this blog

Do I HAVE to shovel? Chicago snow shoveling law and etiquette

Set aside any discussion of climate change for a moment. It’s winter. It’s Chicago. It snows. As a homeowner, you owe it to your friends, family, neighbors and delivery people to keep the sidewalks free of snow and ice.

Tax hike?! 3 ways to fight the latest Cook County property assessments

By Michael H. Wasserman  City of Chicago homeowners should be on the lookout for newly proposed assessed valuations from the Cook County Assessor’s office. A property’s assessed valuation has a direct relationship to the amount of upcoming property tax bills. Savvy property owners (including readers of this blog) know that they can—and should—fight back by appealing those assessment notices. Here's how.

With federal tax reform looming, should I prepay 2017 Cook County property taxes?

By Michael H. Wasserman

Paying property tax bills before the end of the 2017 may help some owners save on their federal income tax liabilities.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been called the most sweeping tax reform bill in decades. Like it or
not, tax reform is coming. Others might wring their hands with glee or with worry. We are already working on ways to minimize the pain this reform might cause. 
One aspect of the pending tax reform plan presents a clear challenge for most Chicagoland home owners, the elimination of deductions for State and Local Taxes (SALT). The house and senate plans both limit deductibility to $10,000. Once the tax reform is signed into law, we will pay federal income taxes on the money we use to pay our local taxes exceeding that $10,000 threshold. Some homeowners who have the foresight (and lets face it, the savings) to act swiftly may want to pre-pay their first installment 2017 property tax bills this year before the tax laws kick in, so that those payments …