Q: A while back, I read your article about tree trimming along a property line. Recently a new neighbor moved in and proceeded to overcut several palm trees near the property line. I even told his landscaper to stop and was ignored. Now, most of the palms are dead, and I received a code violation notice from the city. I asked him to take care of it, but he blew me off. What do I do now? – Steve
A: If your landscaping overhangs the property line, your neighbor is allowed to trim it back as long as it does not damage the tree or bush. If an injury to the plant does occur, your neighbor can be held responsible for the damage.
In your situation, you have two problems to resolve. You need to get your neighbor to pay for repairing or replacing your injured landscaping. You also need to deal with your city's fines for the damaged trees. In many cities, you can be fined for removing trees without a permit or even for improper trimming. Concerning the city fines, while it was not your fault, it is your responsibility, and you will need to fix the problem and pay the penalties.
Many people do not realize that most lawsuits involve getting reimbursed for your damages. You will need to advance the money to fix the problem and then sue for reimbursement. The legal system moves slowly, and your city is not going to wait for you to collect from your neighbor to repair the damage. Since you put your neighbor on notice with no response, your next step will be to fix the problem. Reach out to your city and find out what needs to be done to stop the fines from accruing.
Once the violation is corrected, many cities will work with you to either reduce the fine or give you time to collect the money back from your neighbor. However, I have never seen a city that will mitigate the fines while the violation exists. While you are working on this, you can file a lawsuit against your neighbor to be made whole for the damage he caused.–––
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.