- Ag Docket
The question is a common one. It usually sounds something like this: "My neighbor has a large number of trees on his side of our common fence line. The trees are large and drop dead limbs on my property. Even more troubling, the overhang from the trees prevents production from about five rows of my crops. Can I require my neighbors to trim those trees? What are my rights and obgligations?"
The answer, as usual, is, “It depends.”
The U.S. courts, over a long period of time have established the following four different approaches to deal with this type of situation.
Iowa follows the common law or “Massachusetts Rule.” Thus, a landowner may trim a neighbor’s trees branches from his own side of the fence line. He may also dig up roots from his neighbors trees if they cross onto his property. The remedy, however, is limited to self-help. Harndon v. Stultz, 100 N.W. 329 (Iowa 1904). Kansas, on the other hand, follows the Hawaii approach. In 1985, in Pierce v. Casady, 711 P.2d 766 (Kan. Ct. App. 1985), the court held that where a tree is a nuisance, one landowner may compel his neighbor to abate that nuisance or seek damages for any injury cause by the tree. Importantly, the court ruled that if trees with the overhanding branches do substantial harm, or create an imminent danger, the tree is a nuisance.
The preferred approach is for landowners to reach an agreement with their neighbors regarding these matters. Where such an agreement cannot be reached, landowners are encouraged to seek the input of the local fence viewers. The fence viewers may be able to provide valuable assistance in these cases.
CALT does not provide legal advice. Any information provided on this website is not intended to be a substitute for legal services from a competent professional. CALT's work is supported by fee-based seminars and generous private gifts. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material contained on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of Iowa State University.