Overview of the Law
In Massachusetts, the consequences of removing trees located on another person’s property include triple damages, imprisonment or a fine not more than $500. Single damages apply if an individual thought they were removing trees on their own property or if they thought they were authorized to act.
“Self-help” means a property owner can legally remove branches, roots and/or limbs of a neighbor’s tree located on that property owners land. Although a property owner can remove as much of the tree that is on their property, if a tree straddles the property line, neither property owner can do anything that would injure the tree as a whole. Also, keep in mind that if this trimming seriously injures the tree, you could be liable for the damage done. People have the right to cut down dead trees on a neighbor’s property that are about to fall. Therefore, in order to recover for damage done to a tree on your property the tree must be healthy.
Damages are measured by either the restoration costs, the cost of the timber cut or the resulting reduction in worth of the property. A qualified arborist can conduct a full restoration cost analysis. This analysis, known as cost-of-cure, takes into account the aesthetics, functionality, age, height, girth, and species of the trees, and formulates a restoration value for the replacement of the removed trees. The arborist will determine the cost of planting replacement trees and the estimated time for them to grow to the size of the destroyed trees.
In order to avoid the expense of triple damages it is important to be certain that a tree you want to remove is on your property. Obtaining a plot plan or hiring a surveyor can help avoid any potential problems down the road. If you want to remove a neighbors tree that is negatively affecting your property value or if someone wrongfully removes a tree on your property its important to consult with an expert to understand your options and rights.