The most frequent requests I get are for (1.) Repeat of the tree column, (2.) Repeat of the homeowners' association column and (3.) More information on custody/support of children and grandparent's rights. Today the "tree column" is reprinted. Next week a new column on homeowner's associations will be printed. The following weeks, new columns on custody, grandparents' rights and child support will be published.
"A landowner in an urban area has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent unreasonable risk of damage to adjoining property arising from defective or unsound trees on the premises." (709 So2d 615) [New Note: With rental property, the landlord owns the land and the trees.]
If there is sufficient evidence that the landowner knew or should have known of the unreasonable risk, the landowner might be liable for damage caused by a tree. If there is any evidence offered, the jury would decide if the evidence was sufficient to prove notice of the defective condition of the tree/trees.
A court may consider the defense that a falling tree was an act of God. In the legal sense, an act of God is an extraordinary manifestation of the forces of nature without the intervention of man. An act is not considered an act of God, in the legal sense, if it could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable diligence or ordinary care.
It appears from prior court cases that if a healthy tree falls into your yard because of an act of God, the disposal of that fallen tree is now your responsibility.
If the trunk of a tree is on more than one person's property, each property owner owns a share of the tree. According to prior court cases, each may trim what is on his property but none may do damage to the tree without the consent of all owners. I suggest you talk with your neighbor first.
According to prior court cases, a property owner may trim branches from a neighbor's tree which hang over his property as long as the tree itself is not harmed. Again, I suggest that you talk with your neighbor first. In Florida, a neighbor probably cannot win a complaint that the adjoining landowner's trees block their sun or create too much shade. A landowner can grow his trees as tall and as thick as he wishes because he has a right to use his own land.
Sometimes tree roots from an adjoining property cause sidewalks and driveways to buckle. Court cases have ruled that a homeowner has no duty to control the subterranean growth of his trees. A neighbor can trim roots which are on his property as long as he does not harm the tree.
*****(This example is based on an actual closed case.)*****
A property owner sued his neighbor. Among other complaints, he claimed that branches from the neighbor's trees had caused damage to his roof.
The Judge writing for the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled: The suing party had the right to trim the branches which hung over his roof as long as the tree itself was not harmed. It was his choice not to trim the branches. He has no cause of action against his neighbor because the untrimmed branches fell on his roof. (512 So2d 215)
More on Laws Pertaining to Trees
Apparently the tree column did not answer all of your questions about trees. While a judge cannot give legal advice, I will highlight some areas of the law and let you come to your own conclusions.
Many questions were asked about trees on leased land. The lease should set out the tenant's and the landlord's responsibility for trees. If a tenant is leasing an apartment, the landlord is usually totally responsible for all trees on the property. If a tenant is leasing a house or a lot in a mobile home park, the tenant is generally responsible for maintaining the trees on the property. The tenant must keep them in good condition. The tenant should remove excess moss. The tenant should remove damaged branches. The tenant cannot cut down the trees or damage them in anyway. The landlord owns the trees.
If you are renting, and a tree falls on the apartment or house you are renting, it is the landlord's responsibility to remove the tree and make repairs. Cases say this is an act of God that might break the lease. The landlord might not be in a position to make necessary repairs or the repairs might require a vacant unit. You may be required to move. If the unit is livable but worth less than it was before the damage, should the rent be reduced? That would have to be decided on a case by case basis. During the hurricanes many trees fell into the screened pool areas of rental homes. It took months to repair all the damage. Some tenants vacated. They did not want to live in the rental home under those circumstances. Some tenants stayed and had no use of the pool area for months. The docket was crowded with tenants who refused to pay rent or refused to pay full rent.
If you are renting a lot in a mobile home park and a tree owned by the park falls on your home, who is liable? Did the lease specify who was to maintain the tree? If you were to maintain the tree, did you maintain the tree properly? If it was diseased or storm damaged did you advise the park? Cases say that if the owner of the tree is put on notice of a risk caused by the tree and the owner of the tree does nothing to prevent harm from occurring, the owner may be liable. If you had the responsibility of maintaining the tree and warning of harm and you did not, the owner might have less or no liability.
If you are renting with an option to buy, the trees still belong to the landlord/seller. If you have a rent to own contract, the trees still belong to the seller until your name is on the deed. You cannot cut down the trees without permission. Get the permission in writing!!!
*****(This example is based on an actual closed case.)*****
Conner mistakenly cut down some of Clark's trees which were located on vast acreage. Clark wanted replacement value for each treeŚ$85,144.21.
The judge writing for the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled: While in some cases the court should consider the loss of each individual tree, not in this case. This is not like the loss of trees used for ornament and shade in a trailer park. Clark had the burden to prove the value of the land before and after the removal of the trees. Because Clark did not prove the damages, the court rules in favor of Conner. (441 So2 674)