Author Topic: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!  (Read 15925 times)

dragoncar

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Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« on: September 19, 2015, 02:25:50 PM »
Ok, so this isn't a legal question (I know that part) but a social question (an area in which I am lacking).

We have some cypresses in front of our house along the property line with our neighbor.  The neighbor hates them and wants to cut them down, but they provide privacy for our living room -- otherwise we'd just be looking out at the neighbor's driveway/cars.

Well the trees have been getting tall and unruly and the neighbor suggested that we get them trimmed and topped.  Normally I wouldn't top a tree, but the neighbor said that they had been previously topped (so the structural integrity is already compromised).  The neighbor was having a dead pine removed and I suggested they get a quote from the same company for removing say 10 ft from our cypresses and cleaning them up (branches drooping, etc.)

The next day I wake up and go outside and see this:


Obviously we are mad, and the neighbor has apologized profusely and gave us a bottle of wine.  Their rationale was that a tree crew was down the street already and pressured them into doing the job for less than the other service quoted (like $1100 vs. $1400).  After I went over and inquired WTF was happening they realized that they should have asked us first.

One more wrinkle, the neighbor thinks the trees are on their side of the property line.  I never had a survey done, but looking at the plat map I honestly cannot see how they could be anything but on our property.  I don't really want to start a property dispute unless I have to.

So my question is: The neighbor hasn't straight up asked us to pay them anything, but has hinted about sharing the cost.  Should we pay for half?  My gut instinct is NO, because (a) we weren't consulted on the price, (b) I had no opportunity to vet this tree person or discuss the specifics of the job, (c) we weren't consulted on the amount of tree removed (it's more than the common rule that you should only remove 1/3 of a tree per year), (d) I likely would have balked at that price anyways since I was considering renting a cherrypicker and doing the work myself.

On the other hand, these are our closest neighbors -- we share a private driveway.  I'd like to maintain a semblance of good relations with them.  Legally, I believe we can have a survey done and sue them for damaging our trees, but I don't want to create unnecessary animosity.  On the other hand, I don't want them to think they can do whatever they want and get away with it.  It seems like the best course of action now is to simply refuse to pay for this and move on.  Do you think that would also create too much animosity?  Should I just pay half in order to keep the peace but find another way to let them know we won't just roll over?  I really don't know here... any thoughts would be helpful.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2015, 02:30:42 PM by dragoncar »

Kroaler

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2015, 02:43:42 PM »
I heard about neighbors like this on tv shows, but I didn't know they really existed...   

1.) I would not pay a dime, because no formal agreement was reached.
2.) WTF dude, your neighbors an asshole, I don't see how those trees affected him at all.
3.) If they really are on your property, double dick move. My understanding is he can only trim parts of the tree that extend onto his property as if the property line was 3D.

I think he wanted those trees gone and went with a " better to ask for forgiveness than permission" mentality.  You just got punked.  Would I sue? IDK.  It depends how often and what other shit like that he does.  Maybe he wants to be able to see into your house at night? Who knows....

Hope someone can give you more help, but I would not split the cost for something I didnt agree to.
 

Kris

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2015, 02:57:13 PM »
Yeah, I am pretty "go along to get along," but I don't think I'd pay half.  It's not the money (frankly, $700 is nothing to me because I manage my money well), it's all the BS around how he did it. I agree with Kroaler, I think he decided to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

James

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2015, 03:03:57 PM »
I wouldn't sue, you don't want your neighbors to hate you and make life miserable for you the rest of your time there, so seek to keep the peace.

Having said that, certainly don't pay a dime. They did the wrong thing, they certainly should pay for it. And I would write an email (letter if you don't have their email, but email keep a record of what you sent and any reply they make) and in your letter I would point out that the trees were assumed to be yours, that you didn't give them permission, and that you are upset with the trimming and list your reasons just like you told us. Then conclude that you are happy to have them pay for a survey, but that until then you will continue to assume the trees are yours since that is your current understanding. I would also point out that you sympathize with their desire to trim or remove the trees, you wish to be a good neighbor, and will continue to work with them as long as they work with you, but it needs to be communication prior to anyone doing anything on your property.

I say all that with the assumption you want to keep the peace. Obviously if you don't or it isn't that valuable to you, then contact a lawyer and see how much it would cost and see how much you could gain. For all I know it could be worth thousands of damages for each tree (the cost to remove and replace each one), though you would probably need a survey to prove they are your trees and go through the hassle of a lawsuit. Again, I doubt it is worth that to you, but might be worth checking. He obviously is asking for a lawsuit, both the neighbor and the tree trimmer, and I have little doubt you could get damages if you pushed forward that way. Not sure if the damages would need to be paid by the neighbor or the trimmer, but either way it would probably hurt your relationship pretty severely...

Edit: I found this site interesting http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/neighbor-tree-damage-46933.html

Spork

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2015, 03:27:24 PM »
Short answer: No, I don't think I'd pay.  And... seriously that price seems way out of line in the first place.  I just had 2 massive trees taken down.  I'd estimate one to be well over 100ft tall.  But I'm bad at estimating the length of things... just ask my wife. ;)  Anyway, my total was $600 to take them both down.

I'm not sure I'd bother to sue over it.  That just seems like a pain in the ass and will generate nothing but ill will.  Best case: you have money, but you still don't have your trees.  I think it would be pretty difficult to shoe horn in mature trees of the same size there.  (Probably possible... but you're likely to be starting with young trees again.)

Frankies Girl

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2015, 03:45:58 PM »
Is that crew member on your property in that pic? Holy shit, I'd be furious. They are total assholes for doing that. I wouldn't pay anything for that, and would actually consult about the property line just to be absolutely clear that they were my trees an inform neighbor of that (if proved right) and that they had no right to touch the trees (but probably would not go to suing; definitely would if they had trees removed or butchered to the point that removal was the only option however). They need to be in serious ass-kissing mode right now.

Villanelle

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2015, 04:01:00 PM »
For the sake of neighborly relations, I would probably do and say nothing at all unless and until they explicitly as you for money.  If he does ask, I'd tell him that I'm really not comfortable with it since I didn't approve either the work or the cost, and in fact I never would have approved removing that much of the trees or paying that much for the service.  , I'd throw in something along the lines of, "I hate to put you in a rough spot, and the damage to the trees is done, but given everything, I don't feel comfortable paying for this."  That sort of acknowledges that you see it is a crappy outcome for them, but it also uses the word "damages" to let them know how you feel about what was done. 

They are going to have to be pretty ballsy to ask at all after how it went down, and even more ballsy to push it once you gently decline to pay if they do ask. 


Cassie

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2015, 04:03:34 PM »
Years ago the entrance to our driveway & the neighbors was shared & then split to allow access to both garages.  The guy was a alcoholic & got mad at us for calling police when he was beating his wife in the summer & she was begging us to call. He started blocking access to our driveway with his big truck. We called police & they could not do anything about it since we shared the entrance.  The suggested we consult a lawyer but we didn't because we were young & really couldn't afford it. I would make sure you are not putting yourself in a position like we found ourselves in. Yes the wife went back home to be beat again & again & I never called again.  If you didn't share the entrance I would say don't pay.

Jakejake

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2015, 04:04:24 PM »
OMG, our neighbors are forever doing EXACTLY this sort of thing to us! They've sent their tree cutters down into our back yard on our side of a fence cutting back our hedge for the same reason - they don't want shade in their yard, never mind that it's clearly our property, our trees, and our choice to have privacy. Then they leave all the branches and shit for us to clean up.

Hell, no, you aren't paying for that! If they even dare to hint again, I'd be very clear that they got ripped off paying for a contractor who doesn't know how to properly trim trees, and let them know you aren't looking for damages because you don't want to ruin your good relationship with them, but don't be messing with your landscaping in the future.

Yonco

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2015, 04:06:04 PM »
He didnt pull them out or have them removed, he did a job( taking care of them) you should have been doing.  Give him his bottle of wine back and say sorry, you should have trimmed them so they were not an eyesore.  The asshole will probably be dead in 20 years, just let him enjoy the time he has.

LeRainDrop

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2015, 04:20:54 PM »
OMG, our neighbors are forever doing EXACTLY this sort of thing to us! They've sent their tree cutters down into our back yard on our side of a fence cutting back our hedge for the same reason - they don't want shade in their yard, never mind that it's clearly our property, our trees, and our choice to have privacy. Then they leave all the branches and shit for us to clean up.

Hell, no, you aren't paying for that! If they even dare to hint again, I'd be very clear that they got ripped off paying for a contractor who doesn't know how to properly trim trees, and let them know you aren't looking for damages because you don't want to ruin your good relationship with them, but don't be messing with your landscaping in the future.

I'm with Jake and pretty much all the others -- oh, hell, no!  Frankly, they owe you a BIG apology.  There is no way that I would pay them a dime.  The compromise is exactly as Jake stated.

Cathy

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2015, 04:36:53 PM »
The OP says he is not asking a legal question, but there's a nice tie-in here to the accident thread. Specifically, OP says that the neighbour alleges that the neighbour has or had a good faith belief that the trees were on the neighbour's property, not on OP's property. Is this belief a defence to the tort of trespass? In California at least, the answer is "no", because "[t]he intent required as a basis for liability as a trespasser is simply an intent to be at the place on the land where the trespass allegedly occurred ... The defendant is liable for an intentional entry although he has acted in good faith, under the mistaken belief, however reasonable, that he is committing no wrong". Miller v. National Broadcasting Corp., 187 CalApp3d 1463, 1480 (Ca Ct App 1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Here is my question for the OP (and it is not a legal question, just a follow up on the meaning of "accident"). Let's suppose that the neighbour had a both subjectively and objectively reasonable good-faith belief that he had the legal right to chop your trees in half. This is not relevant to the tort of trespass, but it might be relevant to the linguistic question of whether it was an "accident". Under these facts, the neighbour had a specific intent to send contractors onto the land, but not a specific intent to trespass (because he believed it was his land). In this scenario, was the unlawful trespassing an "accident" or not?
« Last Edit: September 19, 2015, 09:50:56 PM by Cathy »

Jakejake

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2015, 05:01:32 PM »
Let's suppose that the neighbour had a reasonable good-faith belief that he had the legal right to chop your trees in half.
Ignoring the actual question you're asking and just focusing on the premise ... it seems unlikely at best that anyone would a contractor to cut trees on what they honestly believe is their own property - and then hint that they would like their neighbor to help pay for it.

pbkmaine

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2015, 05:46:04 PM »
I think you need to determine whose property they are actually on. If it's yours, I would probably hire someone to make those trees look better, and then apologetically tell the neighbor that you aren't able to chip in for the original job because you had to pay to fix it. I would say this with extreme niceness. If it's theirs you have no obligation to pay.

BrickByBrick

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2015, 05:52:22 PM »
Certainly do not pay him, they are in the wrong (at least morally) so long as it is unclear on whose property the trees are on.  I would, however, find out from your local government property records where the property line is (definitively), and/or pay for a survey, in order to put that matter to bed.  If your neighbor complains (in which case he truly is an ass), tell him your paying for the survey so that should be sufficient.

If the trees are on your property, tell him, and let the matter drop and go back to being neighbors.  If he pulls anything like that again, sue him.

If they are on his property, it's up to you to tell him, although I would. 

If the line is right through the middle...I don't know, probably treat it like they are on his property and let him pay to remove them...and then immediately plant new cyprus trees on your property line right behind the existing ones.

Before all that though, it may be worth seeing if you can come to an agreement on how to maintain those trees to both of yalls satisfaction.

Note:  What irks me most about your photo is that a worker was most likely on your property performing this work (even if the trees turn out to not be yours), under the direction of someone who obviously does not own your property.  I don't know all the potential legal implications of this, but alarm bells would be going off in my head regarding a possible injury to a worker on your property.  This means your neighbor stated that those trees were his property to the workers.  If you haven't already, I would talk to the company that performed the work and explain the situation to them.  I would at the very least tell them that your neighbor is "confused" and imply that they open themselves to future legal action by you if they perform services for him on that side of the property again.

Argyle

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #15 on: September 19, 2015, 07:09:51 PM »
Those trees are now a huge eyesore.  I'm certain this terrible job lowers the value of your property.  The neighbor is very lucky you're not suing him, and if he even hints that you should pay for half, he is completely out of line.  I know you want to get along with him, but getting along with him may require setting firm boundaries about what is acceptable and what you will put up with.  I would write him an e-mail as a previous poster describes, not an angry one, but without any hint of a conciliatory tone.  He needs to understand that nothing like this will be acceptable in the future, in case he decides to do further hackwork on the trees or or anything else affecting your property.  His explanation about how he just got a deal from the tree guys is bogus who would even think of doing that without checking with the owner or part-owner of the trees?  And who would have the sheer nerve of implying in any way that the unconsulted owner or part-owner should pay to have his trees desecrated? 

Kaikou

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #16 on: September 19, 2015, 07:39:12 PM »
Oh man. Don't pay a dime. Give the wine back and ignore. Get this straightened out (property lines) right away.

Also if he thinks it's on his property why would you pay? He's trying to cover himself in all scenarios. Worry about yourself.

Stache-O-Lantern

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #17 on: September 19, 2015, 09:12:35 PM »
Definitely I wouldn't pay the neighbor, but keeping the peace as much as you can is nice, even when they are in the wrong.  Way in the wrong.

Is there a way to go after the contractor?  If there was a contractor working on my neighbors property, and they somehow damaged my property, either through accident or negligence, I would be asking the contractor to make me whole, not the neighbor.  Even if the neighbor gave the contractor bad instructions (like "sure those are my trees".)  Cathy sounds like a lawyer, perhaps she can say.  An appraisal can be done on trees, even after changed conditions when the prior conditions are known with some certainty.  Even if I wasn't going after money with the contractor, they would get an earful, and I would consider a complaint against them to somebody, like the police/sheriff.  I don't see why not.  It's property damage.

Kaikou

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #18 on: September 19, 2015, 09:18:35 PM »
Definitely I wouldn't pay the neighbor, but keeping the peace as much as you can is nice, even when they are in the wrong.  Way in the wrong.

Is there a way to go after the contractor?  If there was a contractor working on my neighbors property, and they somehow damaged my property, either through accident or negligence, I would be asking the contractor to make me whole, not the neighbor.  Even if the neighbor gave the contractor bad instructions (like "sure those are my trees".)  Cathy sounds like a lawyer, perhaps she can say.  An appraisal can be done on trees, even after changed conditions when the prior conditions are known with some certainty.  Even if I wasn't going after money with the contractor, they would get an earful, and I would consider a complaint against them to somebody, like the police/sheriff.  I don't see why not.  It's property damage.

wow

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #19 on: September 19, 2015, 09:19:32 PM »
Good fences make good neighbors....

In your shoes, I would have the property line determined and I would put up a small fence up to mark the line.  In some states, the fence goes on your side, in others, it goes on the property line.  The question will not come up again once the fence is in place.

lr

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #20 on: September 19, 2015, 09:38:11 PM »
Extra vote for getting a survey and plopping a small fence there.

After you know it's your land, ask your neighbors whether they would pay for work done on their property without permission. If no, then agree and don't pay. It shouldn't come up again. If yes, offer to pay "your share" by doing a few surprise projects on their property.

okits

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #21 on: September 19, 2015, 10:04:09 PM »
You asked about maintaining good relations, so it's about the psychology.

Without seeming like the bad guy, I'd scare your neighbour a bit so he will feel like he dodged a bullet by only having to give you the wine and footing the bill for the hacking.

"A city survey confirms the trees are ours. This is a tricky situation and I didn't know what to do.  My friend/SIL/BIL/professional contact is a <insert relevant branch of law> lawyer so I asked his/her opinion.  *look a bit uncomfortable*  S/he totally freaked out and is pushing us to take it to court because we'll win damages.  *let it hang for a few seconds*  Listen, I don't want to do that, we've been great neighbours and I think you get that you have to ask before doing anything on our property. So unless any damage results from this let's just move on from it.  Hey, you wanna try a glass of that wine?"

(If someone is better versed in psychology or is a smooth operator please improve on my suggestion above.)

Tjat

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #22 on: September 20, 2015, 05:28:51 AM »
Did the trees really grow in a way that they were nice, full, and symmetrical for the first 15 feet or so and then devolve into that oddly skinny charlie brown tree for the next 10 feet?

Kaikou

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #23 on: September 20, 2015, 06:38:10 AM »
Did the trees really grow in a way that they were nice, full, and symmetrical for the first 15 feet or so and then devolve into that oddly skinny charlie brown tree for the next 10 feet?

That's what I want to know.

soccerluvof4

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #24 on: September 20, 2015, 09:01:54 AM »
If i didn't contract the guy i wouldn't pay a dime, its not about being neighborly its just not his right so keep it black and white. I agree you need to have your property line determined as well to see what rights you have about having them groomed per sae to look better. If you find them to be on his property then I would do nothing. If on your property I would just be like "hey neighbor your attempt to make things better in your opinion didn't work out so good so you need to take care of this so it doesn't affect our relationship since i didn't give you permission to cut my trees.

cerberusss

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #25 on: September 20, 2015, 09:14:24 AM »
In the past, I've had a similar situation and I was stingy. I later regretted it and bought some flowers, but the relationship had already soured.

Nowadays I would resolutely cut down those trees to the ground if that meant having a good relationship with them. At the very minimum, I'd split the cost.


Left

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #26 on: September 20, 2015, 09:28:26 AM »
boundary fences in some cities are shared between the two owners so the costs are split... even if you don't like it
and if they are "yours", he could take you to court for the full cost if they were higher than height restrictions if there are any. Plus if the tree fell and damaged his property because they were tall enough to reach it, you would be out more money

i thought he cut them in half vertically from your title :( I was expecting pictures of a lopsided tree lol

Greg

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #27 on: September 20, 2015, 09:52:14 AM »
Man they're lucky they're not my neighbors, I'd be furious.

The tree service should have checked with you first.  They are responsible for the damage to your trees, and might have to pay to replace them.  So is the neighbor, you could have them pay to replace them.  Certainly don't pay any share of the service they hired without consulting you first.

Have a talk with them both.  Explain that they are your trees (after verifying this).  You are surprised and saddened by the damage they've caused both to the trees and your neighborly relationship. You don't want them to put you in this place again.

MsPeacock

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #28 on: September 20, 2015, 10:04:23 AM »
Ugh. Well, I had a similar situation with crazy neighbors and issue with my fence and trees. I ended up paying for a boundary survey (said trees and fence were well w/in my property). Lawyers and police were called. They hired a contractor and he accessed my property, tore out a huge trunk, left a giant mess, and damaged a lot of other landscaping. I have no way of knowing who the contractor was. They physically interfered with the guys installing the fence. They yelled expletives at me and the fence guy. They come on my property when I wasn't home to interfere with the people installing a deck (no where near the property line). In other words, they were crazy - definitely no bottles of wine were gifted to me to make up for their $hit. I will note that my property is in much better condition than theirs - they are just full on crazy and look for battles with any neighbor that is close to them. It was a nightmare.

Since you have otherwise had an ok relationship w/ your neighbor - I would recommend getting a boundary survey (this is expensive, and not the same as the plat). The survey company will come out and clearly mark the property line. Establish who the trees belong to. Then move on with you life. If parts of the trees overhand the neighbor's property it is w/in their rights to trim that part of the tree. Let the neighbor know you are having this done in order to avoid future conflict about the trees. Offer to trim them back if they are overhanging the driveway or otherwise causing problems (because this is a reasonable expectation).

It sucks to have conflict w/ your neighbors, and it does sound like they are least feel a little bad about it. I would look to find a way to get past this and avoid future conflict. I would also most definitely NOT pay them any portion of the cost of the tree work they had done w/o your consent.

Rosy

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #29 on: September 20, 2015, 10:16:22 AM »
I agree with what eyem said, this may not be like you think it is, boundary fences and height restrictions may put you in the wrong legally.

boundary fences in some cities are shared between the two owners so the costs are split... even if you don't like it
and if they are "yours", he could take you to court for the full cost if they were higher than height restrictions if there are any. Plus if the tree fell and damaged his property because they were tall enough to reach it, you would be out more money

i thought he cut them in half vertically from your title :( I was expecting pictures of a lopsided tree lol


Either way - get a survey done and go from there.

If that scraggly stuff sticking out beyond 15 feet is an indication how it looked before, then I don't blame them for wanting to have it cut. Around here the city actually comes around and forces you to take proper care of your landscape.

You asked for a quote, not to have it actually cut, so obviously he should not have taken action. If it is on your land and he is offering to pay half - that is generous - he doesn't have to unless there are boundary laws that would compel both of you to share the cost.
You however never gave your final approval - so the bill is his in my opinion. Yet there are legal ramifications and neighborly relations to be considered.

Regardless, he doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who is normally a troublesome neighbor - in this case it is you who up to now has been the troublesome neighbor. You still have your privacy and your trees!
I'd bet he might have paid for a nice fence instead, just to see those trees gone. I don't believe for a minute that he is not willing to give you your privacy or he would have cut them to the ground.

Looks like they would prefer to be on good terms, that is a very good thing and I get that you don't want to play doormat, but I'm guessing they put up with those trees for years and simply had enough. So get that survey and inquire about heights and boundaries and then have a talk.

... but I do agree the tree service should not have cut them without your approval.

 

Easye418

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #30 on: September 20, 2015, 10:35:00 AM »
Fuck Neighbors. This is exactly why I want to move into the middle of nowhere but within an hour of Costco. Pesky, rude people.

Who has the right to tell me I can't swim nude?!?  This is America damnit.

MsPeacock

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #31 on: September 20, 2015, 10:40:07 AM »
Did the trees really grow in a way that they were nice, full, and symmetrical for the first 15 feet or so and then devolve into that oddly skinny charlie brown tree for the next 10 feet?

That's what I want to know.

Me too! Because if that is the case they were super ugly and improved by taking off the top.

Greg

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #32 on: September 20, 2015, 11:10:04 AM »
I think the slenderness of the tree top is pronounced because much of the area below has been limbed, and many of those limbs used to extend up to the slender area.  That's my theory, I'm not a tree expert.

Did the trees really grow in a way that they were nice, full, and symmetrical for the first 15 feet or so and then devolve into that oddly skinny charlie brown tree for the next 10 feet?

That's what I want to know.

Me too! Because if that is the case they were super ugly and improved by taking off the top.

Kernel Fielding

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #33 on: September 20, 2015, 11:22:30 AM »
Good fences make good neighbors....

In your shoes, I would have the property line determined and I would put up a small fence up to mark the line.  In some states, the fence goes on your side, in others, it goes on the property line.  The question will not come up again once the fence is in place.

I happen to have been through something like this once a few years ago with a privet hedge in the backyard which we liked tall for privacy, and had to speak with my neighbor repeatedly about him trimming it back severely without discussing it with or getting agreement from us - but he would not respect our wishes and instead chopped the hedge when we were away. When we had words about it again, he expressed that he thought the hedge was on his property, and that we couldn't be sure where the actual property line was without a survey. Well, I got a survey done (turned out the hedge was entirely on my property), had the privet removed, and a privacy fence built.

No more problems with my neighbor after that. I don't much regret that we don't talk any more (we were on neighborly terms prior to these disagreements), but the fact is he's the one who who pushed it to a head with his passive-aggressive behavior on my property which he thought (or bluffed) might be his property - and the survey and fence ended all that.

With all that said, I would have preferred if our neighbor had just respected our wishes regarding the height of the hedge. I don't enjoy being forced to decide between "just let it go" and actively defending my property, and the energy that entails.

dragoncar

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #34 on: September 20, 2015, 01:18:02 PM »
Thanks all, it seems there's a good consensus here on not paying, with a couple people saying to pay.  Some random responses:

Pay Half: Although it's odd for the neighbor to both claim the trees are theirs and ask us to pay half, I think under normal circumstances this would be fine.  I wouldn't have a problem paying half for work I agreed to on the trees, even if they weren't mine, since I was also benefiting from the work.  The neighbor, in their hinting, also said that the previous owner of my house had cut down a tree on their side that was a hazard and they paid half without consultation.  I don't think that makes what they did right at all, just that I normally would have been fine sharing maintenance costs for that kind of thing assuming we mutually agreed to the price and character of the work beforehand.

The reason I want to keep a good relationship, and others have hinted, is that our relationship has so far been fine.  To be honest, we don't really like the neighbors that much, but everyone is polite.  The biggest transgression so far is he likes to park his truck on the shared driveway, partially blocking "his side," but he makes an effort to pull it really far over.  It's mostly an eyesore, not an impediment to access.  On the other hand, I sometimes use their driveway to bring the lawnmower up to the lawn (otherwise I'd have to carry it up the stairs).  If one of us is out of town, the other will bring in mail and trash cans, etc.  I'd much prefer a relationship where we look out for each other even if we aren't "friends"

Survey: Although I haven't gotten a quote, I'm guessing a survey will cost $1-2k or more because it's an odd-shaped property.  I suppose I could just get the one property line done, but it might not be cheaper as that one is a curve.  There is a chance some of the tree is on their side, but that doesn't allow them to cut the tops off, only to trim the side on their property, and not if it will kill the tree.  There's also a chance one of the tree's trunk is on their side.... it really depends on the curve.  I agree it might be a good idea to pay for the survey and consider that my "half" of the tree cutting.  It might still be hard for the surveyor to establish good boundaries underneath the trees.

Apparently the tree service guy "told them" the trees were on their property because they were on the other side of my lawn edging.  Totally ridiculous.  I was like... how the hell would a tree guy know where the property line is.

So does everyone still think I should pony up the dough for an expensive survey?  I'm not sure it would change anything at this point, unless the neighbor decides to chop them down.  Trees will not need to be re-topped for maybe 10 years?

Fence:  I technically can't put a fence on my property because there is a drainage easement that runs along a 10ft strip next to the property line.  The builders did plant a lot of trees there, which theoretically could be taken out by the county if they ever needed to dig in that strip.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure if the fence can go right at the property line or has to be on their side.

Did the trees really grow in a way that they were nice, full, and symmetrical for the first 15 feet or so and then devolve into that oddly skinny charlie brown tree for the next 10 feet?

That's what I want to know.

No, they looked like normal cypresses before... it looks like the contractor sheared the branches off the trunk towards the top before taking the top down.  The trees looked OK to begin with -- on par with other cypresses in the neighborhood.  There were just a few branches licking out where birds had made nests that could easily have been cut off or tied back with a cherry picker.

boundary fences in some cities are shared between the two owners so the costs are split... even if you don't like it
and if they are "yours", he could take you to court for the full cost if they were higher than height restrictions if there are any. Plus if the tree fell and damaged his property because they were tall enough to reach it, you would be out more money

i thought he cut them in half vertically from your title :( I was expecting pictures of a lopsided tree lol

There are no height restrictions on trees

He didnt pull them out or have them removed, he did a job( taking care of them) you should have been doing.  Give him his bottle of wine back and say sorry, you should have trimmed them so they were not an eyesore.  The asshole will probably be dead in 20 years, just let him enjoy the time he has.

Can't tell if serious.  "taking care of" trees does not entail cutting them in half.  Most arborists would not approve topping a tree at all, but these had allegedly been topped before.  If true (something I would have checked before proceeding), then the trees are weak at the prior topping point and can break if allowed to grow too high.  I would have be fine re-topping them in this case, but either way, they went way below any prior topping point in this work.

Here is my question for the OP (and it is not a legal question, just a follow up on the meaning of "accident"). Let's suppose that the neighbour had a both subjectively and objectively reasonable good-faith belief that he had the legal right to chop your trees in half. This is not relevant to the tort of trespass, but it might be relevant to the linguistic question of whether it was an "accident". Under these facts, the neighbour had a specific intent to send contractors onto the land, but not a specific intent to trespass (because he believed it was his land). In this scenario, was the unlawful trespassing an "accident" or not?

Chopping the trees was no an accident.  Chopping my trees could be considered an accident if they thought the trees were theirs.  On objectively reasonable good faith, however, we have both previously claimed ownership of the trees (in passing).  Therefore a reasonable person would understand that there was a dispute as to the ownership of the trees.

Left

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #35 on: September 20, 2015, 01:37:57 PM »
got me into looking at laws where i am, found this.
Quote
In Missouri as in other states, a boundary fence that has been in place for 10 or more consecutive years can in effect become the boundary by the legal doctrine of adverse possession. Adverse possession means that the fence for all practical purposes becomes the property line, and so you cannot just remove or move the fence. A survey does not take precedence over adverse possession. So, if the fence has been in place for more than 10 years No, you can't just move the fence. A fence that has been in place less than 10 years, however, can be moved based on a property survey.
you might have same issue where you are? from way it sounds, if you two used the trees as a fence and they are there for ten years, they became the property line, in which case a boundary survey does no good? the qoute was about moving the fence and not cutting it, but you two are using the trees as a fence so they become shared at some point?

MsPeacock

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #36 on: September 20, 2015, 01:39:35 PM »
The boundary survey for my yard was $1000, suburban corner lot. They basically charge per yard or foot or something, and have to do the entire perimeter - no just doing one side. YMMV, of course. It costs nothing to call and ask. I called the survey company from the plat and they were able to give me a quote over the phone.

Cassie

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #37 on: September 20, 2015, 01:46:27 PM »
I wouldn't do the survey & I probably would not pay either unless it is possible for him to block your access to your driveway like what happened to us. 

dragoncar

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #38 on: September 20, 2015, 02:07:47 PM »
got me into looking at laws where i am, found this.
Quote
In Missouri as in other states, a boundary fence that has been in place for 10 or more consecutive years can in effect become the boundary by the legal doctrine of adverse possession. Adverse possession means that the fence for all practical purposes becomes the property line, and so you cannot just remove or move the fence. A survey does not take precedence over adverse possession. So, if the fence has been in place for more than 10 years No, you can't just move the fence. A fence that has been in place less than 10 years, however, can be moved based on a property survey.
you might have same issue where you are? from way it sounds, if you two used the trees as a fence and they are there for ten years, they became the property line, in which case a boundary survey does no good? the qoute was about moving the fence and not cutting it, but you two are using the trees as a fence so they become shared at some point?

In California, adverse possession is typically not an issue, since one element is that they have to pay property tax on that property.  I am dubious about writing some of the letters advised above, since I don't want to give them a prescriptive easement to maintain the trees (use without permission is an element of prescriptive easement).  Better to take the position that we allowed them to to do it this one time, at their own cost, in the interest of being neighborly.  On the other hand, if the trees die it might end up in court, since removing and replacing them will be expensive.  Overall, I don't see the advantage of giving them anything in writing until we see how the trees do. 

I wouldn't do the survey & I probably would not pay either unless it is possible for him to block your access to your driveway like what happened to us. 

It's possible for them to block our driveway, but they won't.  I see this ordeal as them being thoughtless and self-centered rather than evil. 

The boundary survey for my yard was $1000, suburban corner lot. They basically charge per yard or foot or something, and have to do the entire perimeter - no just doing one side. YMMV, of course. It costs nothing to call and ask. I called the survey company from the plat and they were able to give me a quote over the phone.

good idea, I didn't consider that it would be easy for them to give a quote based on the plat map.  This thing has turns and curves all over the place, though, and I haven't been able to find one of the monuments on the map.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2015, 02:11:55 PM by dragoncar »

sheepstache

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #39 on: September 20, 2015, 02:09:56 PM »
got me into looking at laws where i am, found this.
Quote
In Missouri as in other states, a boundary fence that has been in place for 10 or more consecutive years can in effect become the boundary by the legal doctrine of adverse possession. Adverse possession means that the fence for all practical purposes becomes the property line, and so you cannot just remove or move the fence. A survey does not take precedence over adverse possession. So, if the fence has been in place for more than 10 years No, you can't just move the fence. A fence that has been in place less than 10 years, however, can be moved based on a property survey.
you might have same issue where you are? from way it sounds, if you two used the trees as a fence and they are there for ten years, they became the property line, in which case a boundary survey does no good? the qoute was about moving the fence and not cutting it, but you two are using the trees as a fence so they become shared at some point?

This is the sort of thing that concerns me, where behavior might change a property line. I would be worried the neighbor would eventually claim the trees are his fence because he's paid the maintenance on them.

So I like James' idea about the email or PBKMaine's idea in email form, or maybe a municipal office can register a complaint on your record without escalating it. Some sort of history of the fact that you are continuing to claim them.

Cathy

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #40 on: September 20, 2015, 02:26:04 PM »
It's possible for them to block our driveway, but they won't....

This possibility reminds me of one case I read a few years ago that I found pretty humourous.

In Vesuna, infra, the plaintiff purchased a property a BC after visiting it one day. During his visit, he accessed the property by driving along a road. The road turned out to be a private road, not a public road, and after the plaintiff bought the property, the owners of the road blocked access to it. Meanwhile, all other possible routes to access the plaintiff's property were also blocked by various obstacles (a stream in one case). Basically, he had purchased a property that was impossible to access! He filed a lawsuit alleging various legal theories against the neighbours and various levels of government (arguing that the governments were negligent in allowing this totally enclosed property to exist). Unfortunately for him, the courts found that none of his theories had any merit, and his case was totally dismissed. Vesuna v. British Columbia (Transportation), 2011 BCSC 941, aff'd 2013 BCCA 10, leave denied 2013 CanLII 53403 (SCC). I take this as a lesson to make sure it's possible to access property before purchasing it.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2015, 02:52:04 PM by Cathy »

dragoncar

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #41 on: September 20, 2015, 04:13:24 PM »
It's possible for them to block our driveway, but they won't....

This possibility reminds me of one case I read a few years ago that I found pretty humourous.

In Vesuna, infra, the plaintiff purchased a property a BC after visiting it one day. During his visit, he accessed the property by driving along a road. The road turned out to be a private road, not a public road, and after the plaintiff bought the property, the owners of the road blocked access to it. Meanwhile, all other possible routes to access the plaintiff's property were also blocked by various obstacles (a stream in one case). Basically, he had purchased a property that was impossible to access! He filed a lawsuit alleging various legal theories against the neighbours and various levels of government (arguing that the governments were negligent in allowing this totally enclosed property to exist). Unfortunately for him, the courts found that none of his theories had any merit, and his case was totally dismissed. Vesuna v. British Columbia (Transportation), 2011 BCSC 941, aff'd 2013 BCCA 10, leave denied 2013 CanLII 53403 (SCC). I take this as a lesson to make sure it's possible to access property before purchasing it.

In this case I meant they can physically block it but I own a 12 ft half of the driveway and have a recorded (reciprocal) easement to their 12ft half.  So they block it at their own peril

humbleMouse

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #42 on: September 20, 2015, 04:26:54 PM »
I am surprised you would even consider paying them anything. They chopped down trees without asking that are likely on your property?  fuck em

jacksonvasey

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #43 on: September 21, 2015, 09:23:02 AM »
Honestly, if it were me, I would think back to when you asked the neighbor to get quotes.  How much would you have considered to be an acceptable price (based on what I saw, maybe $500 for the job, if he was licensed/insured/bonded.  I would consider paying half of what you thought was acceptable, and explain to the neighbor that had he consulted you, you would have paid that much.

On the survey front, I think before you hire a surveyor you should do a bit of research on the properties in question.  I worked for a surveyor for a summer, and, aside from lugging 30 gallons of water through the woods in VT to do perc testing, we did a half dozen property surveys.

From what I remember, I would head to the town clerk's office and go spend 20 minutes inside the big bank vault type room where they store property deeds, and make photocopies of everything for the property in question.  This often included copies of the original deeds from the 1800's describing the property line, and included more recent site plans submitted with permits, or even from other surveys that had been done.  There should be records from when the land was subdivided (I'm assuming you live in a relatively recent subdivision).

Anyway, the point is, all the information that a surveyor is going to study is going to be at the town clerk's office.  They're not going to use divining rods to determine your property boundary.  So, worst case is you go get all those documents and can't understand it enough to determine the portion of the boundary in question.  But I understood them enough without any particular training, so it's worth a shot to save some money.

If you're in a subdivision that was recently done, you should be able to find monuments marking the vertices in your property line polygon.  They likely would be capped rebar spikes driven in the ground (the cap would list the license # for the surveyor).  It's also possible that they would have put a telephone pole in place and called that the monument.  Or, it's also possible that they didn't leave any permanent cues to you as to the line.  But I think it would be worth trying to read the deed before you hire someone for beaucoup money.

Keep in mind that this is just what I would do, I'm definitely not qualified to advise you on property line surveying.  This is just me thinking back on my brief experience doing these surveys when I wasn't busy timing water piss down a post hole in the woods in VT 13 years ago.  I expect surveying is/was done differently in different places and times.

AZDude

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #44 on: September 21, 2015, 10:11:11 AM »
Dont make a mountain out of a molehill. The guy apologized, and the damage is done. Just make it clear that it was not acceptable and then move on. Neighbor pissing matches will end up costing far too much money and frustration. Just talk it out, come to consensus for the future, and call it good.

Axecleaver

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #45 on: September 21, 2015, 11:43:51 AM »
Hi Dragon, those appear to be Leyland Cypress trees, the bane of homeowners of just-add-water developments everywhere. I owned a property with these once, the problem with topping these trees is they will never grow higher than what you see here. Topping is OK if you prune back new growth (less than a year old). However, your trees have now been topped below the old growth, and will never recover. They are likely to die unless heavily fertilized and watered. You will get unsightly side growth at the tops which will need to be pruned 2-3x a year until you remove the trees. The roots are very shallow and now at high risk of dieback.

Here's an article explaining the problem: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/cut-top-leyland-cypress-trees-67225.html

You should ask your neighbors to reimburse you for the entire cost of the trees. It was unconscionable to cut down your trees. Passive-aggressive neighbors do this to victims all the time and think they can get away with it.

Example: Frank Serpico is running for office because of a dispute with a neighbor who cut down some of his trees. References:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070666/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/nyregion/for-serpico-who-fought-police-corruption-a-new-conflict-over-woodland.html?_r=0
http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/frank-serpico-seeks-seat-upstate-york-town-board-33597102

dragoncar

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #46 on: September 21, 2015, 06:02:09 PM »
Hi Dragon, those appear to be Leyland Cypress trees, the bane of homeowners of just-add-water developments everywhere. I owned a property with these once, the problem with topping these trees is they will never grow higher than what you see here. Topping is OK if you prune back new growth (less than a year old). However, your trees have now been topped below the old growth, and will never recover. They are likely to die unless heavily fertilized and watered. You will get unsightly side growth at the tops which will need to be pruned 2-3x a year until you remove the trees. The roots are very shallow and now at high risk of dieback.

Here's an article explaining the problem: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/cut-top-leyland-cypress-trees-67225.html

You should ask your neighbors to reimburse you for the entire cost of the trees. It was unconscionable to cut down your trees. Passive-aggressive neighbors do this to victims all the time and think they can get away with it.

Example: Frank Serpico is running for office because of a dispute with a neighbor who cut down some of his trees. References:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070666/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/nyregion/for-serpico-who-fought-police-corruption-a-new-conflict-over-woodland.html?_r=0
http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/frank-serpico-seeks-seat-upstate-york-town-board-33597102

Thanks, I would have guessed Italian cypress, which a more common around here.  I understand they can be topped and grow new leaders, but the new leaders are weak and must be continually retopped.  Any suggestions as to how to fertilize these guys?

My wife loves cypress... I could do without their heigh and susceptibility to wind throw.  Luckily, we planted some in back a year ago so if these disappear we will still have some.  They are growing fast.


SwordGuy

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #47 on: September 21, 2015, 06:16:10 PM »
After you know it's your land, ask your neighbors whether they would pay for work done on their property without permission. If no, then agree and don't pay. It shouldn't come up again. If yes, offer to pay "your share" by doing a few surprise projects on their property.

Damn, but that's funny!

MrsPete

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #48 on: September 21, 2015, 09:05:16 PM »
I like my trees, so I'd be ticked.  However, you have to live next door to these people, so in the spirit of friendliness, I'd let it go and not make a fuss. 

At the same time, I wouldn't pay a penny for work I didn't authorize.  If they're brazen enough to ask, I would explain that I didn't have a chance to consider the price /get estimates from other contractors, and I really didn't want the trees cut. 

And I'd plant some new, more attractive trees to provide privacy in the living room ... and once they'd taken hold well, I'd cut down these mangled messes. 

Argyle

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Re: Neighbor chopped my trees in half!
« Reply #49 on: September 22, 2015, 09:18:45 AM »
Since the neighbor is the one who has mangled them, and he thinks he has property rights to them, maybe he should pay for cutting down he mangles messes.