In the November 15, 2018 blog post, we addressed the importance of religious organizations keeping properties free of known tripping hazards. Of the many common tripping dangers, tree roots are a consistent problem. Roots can raise sidewalks, create hazardous cracks in roadways, and can simply grow so big that the roots become their own hazard. Therefore, a property owner wisely removes dangerous roots when they arise. But what happens when the tree that is the source of the roots grows on a neighbor’s property? Can the removal of roots from the neighboring tree create a responsibility to pay for injury to the neighbor’s tree?
Under Florida law, an owner of a healthy tree is not liable to an adjoining property owner for damage caused by encroaching tree branched or roots. Similarly, the adjoining property owner is permitted to trim back, at its own expense, any encroaching tree roots or branches which have grown onto the adjoining property.
In the recent appellate opinion of Balzar v Ryan, the court refused to hold an adjoining property owner responsible for damaging a neighbor’s tree when the adjoining property owner removed tree roots encroaching upon the property owner’s land. This finding is good news for property owners attempting to keep the land free of tripping hazards. Landowners may responsibly remove encroaching roots from neighboring trees without concern that damage to the tree will result in a claim against the adjacent landowner.
The take away: property owners should always err on the side of removing tree roots as part of the continued effort to keep the premises safe.