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Don't Cut Down My TreeIt is quite typical for your neighbors to get upset when they see their trees being chopped down. In fact, it can become a legal problem. An immense one. Just the term “triple damages” should give away just how much legal trouble.

In some cases, people intentionally cut down trees that are on their neighbor’s property line out of spite or merely because they asked their neighbor to trim them, and the neighbor refused. Neither scenario will work out well because it can produce an expensive backfire. Before taking matters into your own hands, consider what Massachusetts law will allow.

The Massachusetts tree law (General Laws chapter 242, section 7) allows up to triple the damages for the malicious trimming, destroying, or cutting of another person’s trees.

The actual law reads:

A person who without license willfully cuts down, carries away, girdles or otherwise destroys trees, timber, wood or underwood on the land of another shall be liable to the owner in tort for three times the amount of the damages assessed therefor; but if it is found that the defendant had good reason to believe that the land on which the trespass was committed was his own or that he was otherwise lawfully authorized to do the acts complained of, he shall be liable for single damages only.

That being said, it is wise that property owners who propose to cut trees close to property boundary lines consult a plot or survey plan to make sure that the trees aren’t a part of their neighbor’s property.

Measuring the Damages: The Restoration Cost

The measure of damages for the deliberate cutting of trees fluctuates from case to case. The greatest measure of damages is either the restoration costs, the cost of the timber cut or the resulting reduction in worth of the property. A plaintiff is permitted to declare a claim for either value, whatever the highest may be.

Where the trees are hard to replace, the trees cut are tall or have a specific role like screening, or if all three factors apply, it is prudent to involve a qualified arborist to conduct a full restoration cost analysis. The repair cost analysis takes into account the functionality, age, aesthetics, girth, height, and type of the trees and builds a recovery price for the replacement of the detached trees. The technique, recognized as cost-of-cure, consist of defining the rate of planting trees and the projected period for the replacement trees to cultivate to the size of the demolished trees (years of equivalence).

In a recent case, Galvin v. Eckman, Land Court judges awarded $30,000 (multiplied by three) for the cutting of ten matured oak trees and approximately $45,000 (multiplied by three) for the clearance of an 800 sq. Foot woodland zone that delivered privacy screening. Expert arborist verification was provided in both of these cases on the renovation price of the cut trees. Then there was also the case where a Somerset family recuperated a $150,000 wrongful death payment after a lady plunged to her death after her neighbor unlawfully cut down a strip of sentimental trees.

Branches Above The Property Line

Beneath Massachusetts common law, you could get rid of branches of your neighbor’s tree spreading over your land line so long as you don’t damage or kill a tree. Likewise, your neighbor has no responsibility for roots budding into your lawn and triggering damage. Massachusetts law doesn’t allow an individual to enter or cross a neighbor’s land for these reasons without the neighbor’s permission, nor to eliminate some branches or added vegetation within the limits of the neighbor’s land. This is known as the “Massachusetts Rule.”

Utility Tree Cutting

There have been many recent disagreements between property holders and utility corporations like in the Wayland v. NStar case which was over tree cutting inside utility easements. The law offers a public utility company the allowance to eliminate or trim a tree if it restricts the reasonable and necessary job of the utility. Also, the utility is obligated to complete the tree pruning as a part of its program to preserve dependable service for its consumers. The National Electric Safety Code obligates utilities to trim or eliminate trees budding close to power lines that can cause a disruption of service. Regular and proper tree pruning helps avoid the inconvenience and danger of outages.

Finally, tree cutting and landscaping companies have a duty to get a contracted instruction from the homeowners and an indemnification before cutting trees.

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday

Author Arthur Hardy-Doubleday

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday practices law in Cambridge and Martha's Vineyard Massachusetts. He works in the areas of Real Estate, Personal Injury, and Consumer Protection Law. When not practicing law, Arthur enjoys sailing, hanging out with friends on the beach, and waking his dog "Ridiculous."

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