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Pining for Answers in Ohio Tree Law

Repeated by popular demand!

Central Ohio is home to many beautiful and established neighborhoods that have been around for over a hundred years.  From Grandview to German Village to Upper Arlington to Clintonville and so on, old houses line the streets.  With old neighborhoods and houses, also comes matured trees.  Those trees have become ingrained in neighborhoods, and often extend from one property to the next.  Problems can arise between neighbors that have disagreements over the growth patterns of the tree.  The best practice to avoid problems is to communicate with your neighbors and resolve any potential conflict.  However, sometimes that isn’t enough.

How is tree ownership determined in Ohio?

A tree is owned by the property owner of the property upon which the tree grows.  Ohio law states that the property line extends upward toward the sky. The limbs of the tree extending onto another property do not extend ownership to that property owner.  However, a tree that is growing on the property line is deemed jointly owned by both neighbors.

If a tree falls and damages property, who is responsible for the damage?

Ohio law states that tree owners are not responsible for the damages caused by their trees, unless the tree owners are negligent.  Shoemaker v. Harris, 1998 Ohio App. LEXIS 6066.  Negligence arises out of whether not the tree owner has actual knowledge of a weakened tree.  Hay v. Norwalk Lodge No. 730, BPOE, 92 Ohio App. 14, 3 (1951).  If the owner has knowledge of the weakened condition, and damage occurs, they are liable.  If the tree is not in a weakened or damaged condition, or if they reasonably do not have notice of the same, the owner is not liable for the damage.

In summary, the party whose property is damaged bears the responsibility of the damages, unless the owner of the tree was negligent.

Does the owner of the tree have a duty to inspect the tree?

In urban areas like Central Ohio, a tree owner may also be liable for damage if they have constructive notice of a weekend tree.  These owners have a duty to inspect their trees regularly.  A tree owner in an urban area is treated as though that owner has actual knowledge of the results of an actual tree inspection.  If an inspection of a tree would not have given the tree owner knowledge of a weakened state, the tree owner is not liable for any damages resulting from a fall.

In rural areas, the standard for inspection is lower.  Generally, property owners are not responsible for regular inspections of their trees, unless the condition of the tree is obviously weakened as stated above.

What if my tree hangs over my neighbor’s property—can she or he make me trim it? 

You are not required to do so, as you are not liable for the damages unless the tree is weakened, and you reasonably should notice, as stated above.

Can my neighbor trim my tree?

Sure.  If the limbs or branches of your tree extend onto the neighbors’ property, she or he may remove those limbs that overhang such property.

However, the neighbor needs to be cautious when cutting/trimming the tree.  The neighbor cannot kill or otherwise cripple the tree, and needs to exercise reasonable care.  Ohio Revised Code §901.51 do not permit injuring the vines, bushes, trees, or crops on the land of another.  This could result in treble damages (three times the value of the tree).

Who can cut the limbs (or entire tree) of a jointly owned tree?

Either neighbor may cut the branches that extend onto their own property, but must obtain permission from their neighbor before cutting additional branches, or the entire tree.

Chad M. Stonebrook is a Partner at Lardiere McNair, LLC.  To read more about our firm, please visit www.lmcounsel.com

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