Q: My neighbor has several trees on his property at the property line. The branches come over my lawn, roof and driveway. I have requested many times that he trim the branches but to no avail. When they asked me to cut a tree that they feared would fall on their house I complied, no question asked.
Can I have the branches trimmed? Do I need his permission? Can he take action against me if I trimmed them?
A: Tree law varies on a state-by-state basis. In general, the common law adopted in all states is that you have the absolute right to trim any overhanging branches and cut any roots that are growing on your property.
There is one caveat, however. If you trim the branches or cut the roots and the tree may die as a result, this could be a problem. For example, in the District of Columbia, the legislative body (City Council) enacted a law that prohibits anyone from injuring a live tree, and subjects that person to potential criminal sanctions.
So here's my suggestion: Consult with a local arborist in your area. This professional should inspect the trees, being careful not to trespass on your neighbor's property, and give you a written opinion as to the impact your actions may have on the tree(s). And the arborist should know the local tree law. If the arborist gives you the go-ahead, I would advise your neighbor of your intention and then trim and cut away.
On the other hand, if the arborist tells you that you could injure or kill the tree, then you may have to resort to legal action. I have successfully sued a client's neighbor for private nuisance, because the tree roots were damaging my client's garage and the walnuts were falling all over the backyard. My client was concerned that any work on the tree would cause it to die and fall, and that could harm or kill someone.
Talk with your arborist and an attorney about your options.
Q: Real estate activity is high in my area. I found a house that I would like to buy, but the seller's broker told me that I cannot have any contingencies in the contract. Should I make an offer anyway?
A: There are three contingencies that I consider very important:
Financing. Unless you have all the cash needed to buy the house, you cannot take a chance on a lender unwilling to make a loan. Appraisal. Nowadays, appraisers are very conservative, and if their value is too low, you will have to pay the difference with cash out of your own pocket.
Home inspection. Why would you take a chance on an older house without having it fully inspected by a professional, independent home inspector?
I know that sellers in a hot market prefer a clean contract, with no contingencies. But unless you are a gambler willing, and able, to take chances, I cannot recommend entering into a contract without these three contingencies. A contingency means that if certain things do not occur, and you are within the time period spelled out in the real estate contract, you have the absolute right to cancel the contract, and get your deposit refunded.
Otherwise, if you find out that you cannot get a loan, you can lose the earnest money deposit. Or if you buy the house and find thousands of dollars of needed repairs (as happened to one of my clients), you will have no one to blame but yourself.
Water leaks revisited: In a recent column, I wrote about water leaks in community properties. I misread the question, thinking the writer lived in a condominium. However, Karyl Dicker Foray, a Chicago insurance agent with Rosenthal Brothers Inc., called my attention to the fact that in Illinois, the majority of town home associations do not insure the building structures, and homeowners should purchase an HO-3 or HO-5 policy for their protection. She agrees with me that all homeowners should carefully read their legal documents, and if they have questions should consult the association's insurance agent or legal counsel.
Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Send questions to email@example.com