My neighbor has a big tree with branches that hang over the fence between our yards. It is a pretty tree except that I keep finding its branches in my yard. My neighbor refuses to come pick them up and so I have taken to throwing them back over the fence into her yard. She says that is rude and not neighborly. I say she is rude not to clean up after her tree. Who is right? Irritated in Matthews.
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Dear Irritated in Matthews,
I understand your irritation, but unfortunately your neighbor is right. The general rule in North Carolina is that a possessor of land (usually the owner) is not responsible for physical harm caused to others off his land by a natural condition of the land. There is an exception for harm to adjacent property, if the harm results from an unsafe condition of the land, which the possessor knew or should have known about.
Here we are talking about your neighbor’s tree branches falling from her tree into your yard. Even if your neighbor knows about the problem – and it is clear she does – she has no responsibility for those branches that are now in your yard. Adding salt to the wound, you should not throw the branches back into her yard because their existence in your yard is not the result of a natural condition of your land.
The answer would be different, if your neighbor decided to trim the branches off her tree and then they fell into your yard. In that situation, the branches falling onto your yard would not be the result of a natural condition of the land, but the problem for you is still the same. What, if anything, can you do about the branches? You still can’t throw them back, and making your neighbor do something about the branches, such as going to court, is much too expensive and time-consuming to be worth it.
Finally, the answer would change if your neighbor knew or should have known about the unsafe condition and a fallen branch causes harm to a person or actually damages your property, for example, by damaging your roof. In these circumstances, North Carolina law imposes on the possessor of the land a duty to eliminate the unsafe condition. You should discuss this with your neighbor in an effort to persuade her to fix the problem. North Carolina law does permit you to trim the branches yourself, but it would be better if you and your neighbor try to reach a compromise first.
In short, these situations remind us of the value of good neighbors behaving reasonably without going to court. If you’re lucky, you have a fireplace or outdoor fire pit, and the branches are suitable for burning while roasting marshmallows. Good luck!
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Laura H. Budd or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law.