My neighbor has a tree planted near the fence, and it overhangs my property. Branches have fallen but have not caused any damage. I want to ensure that the neighbor would be held liable should there be any damage from the tree on my property so that my homeowner's insurance rates would not be impacted, should I make a claim from potential damages resulting from this tree.

I read that if the owner of the tree knows that the tree is damaged, they could be held liable for damage if it falls onto a neighbors property. I had an arborist assess the tree as damaged and write a letter on my behalf recommending that the tree be removed. The neighbor's property is an apartment building owned by an LLC, so I have no direct contact with the owner. I have written a separate letter to the LLC years ago about a separate matter but never heard back. I sent the letter from the arborist certified mail to the address for the LLC listed on my town's tax assessor's website. Delivery was attempted twice, and a notice was left, but there was no authorized recipient available with both delivery attempts, so the letter is being returned to me.

I live in Rhode Island in the United States.

What can I do in this case to hold the owner liable if the owner listed on the tax assessor's website will not sign for a certified mail letter?

For example, would one of these potential ideas make the owner liable?:

  1. Send the letter from the arborist certified mail to the property manager at the actual address of the property (rather than the address of the listed owner)
  2. Ask the property manager if there is a more current address for the owner and send the letter certified mail to that address (even though this would differ from the owner listed on the tax assessor's website)
  • The legal questions are whether the property owner is liable if the tree causes damage on your property by falling, and whether that owner has to receive suitable evidence that there is a risk. We have no idea how to hunt down the property owner. So what exactly is your legal question? – user6726 Jan 10 '20 at 20:45
  • @user6726 whether the potential ideas I listed out (or some other options that would be feasible in this case) would hold the neighbor liable – Mike Eng Jan 10 '20 at 23:01
  • I explained the situation in order to lay out what my options were. I thought i was clear with what the legal question is with “what can I do in this case to hold the owner liable?”. If there is a way I can make that more clear, let me know. Otherwise please remove the downvote. – Mike Eng Jan 10 '20 at 23:05
  • I did not downvote, and you should not accuse me of doing so. – user6726 Jan 10 '20 at 23:15
  • Sorry @user6726 . It would be helpful to know how the question might be improved (and why it was downvoted) because I thought it was clear. – Mike Eng Jan 10 '20 at 23:51

The owner would not be liable

You are aware of the risk of the overhanging branches and you have a duty to mitigate that risk.

At common law, you are entitled to remove limbs of trees that encroach upon your property. You need to do this to mitigate the risk in a way that leaves the tree viable. Legally, the timber in the limbs belongs to the neighbour so you have to return them (place the money on your neighbour’s property). Statute law may have changed the common law in your state so you need to check.

If the tree falls from their property from their property to your property they are liable. If it drops limbs from your property to your property, you are liable.

  • 1
    What if you cannot remove limbs in a way that leaves the tree viable? If to remove them you'd need access to the property and won't grant it? – Andy Jan 11 '20 at 17:29
  • Thanks. When you say “the owner would not be liable” and “if it drops limbs from your property to your property, you are liable”, does this mean as the situation stands or after doing one or both of the potential ideas? would sending a certified mail letter to the property manager or to an address that the property manager gives me for the owner change the liability? Would having the owner accept a certified mail letter at the address listed on the tax assessor’s site change the liability? – Mike Eng Jan 15 '20 at 1:42
  • Can you cite references for these claims? – Mike Eng Jan 15 '20 at 1:43

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