Rhode Island Tree Laws

Published 01/13/2020

They say the best neighbor is a big fence. But what happens when your neighbor’s tree causes damage or potential damage to your property? What rights do you have?

Neighbors often squabble over “no mans land,” the area between neighboring properties. Often leading to simmering hostilities between neighbors that can last for years and sometimes decades.

Rhode Island recognizes your common law right (the law before written law) as a landowner to cut off the limbs of a tree or shrub which were overhanging or encroaching on your property from the tree or shrub located on your neighbor’s property. You also have the right to cut roots that grow onto your land. Caution and extreme care should be taken when it is likely that doing so may severely damage the neighbor’s tree.

As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining the trees on your property. The same goes for your neighbor. You both have a duty to make reasonable inspections and take reasonable steps to ensure the tree is safe. Failure to do so will open yourself to unwanted liability. Remember that disregard of the law is never a defense to a lawsuit.

If a storm knocked down a tree limb onto your property, damaging your house, car, deck etc., the court will apply the reasonable care standard to determine if your neighbor is liable for the damages. The court will determine if the neighbor took reasonable care of tree and if the branch seemed dangerous to a reasonable person. If the court finds that your neighbor acted reasonably then the court will deem it an “Act of God” and the neighbor will not be liable.

This type of law is called Negligence Law, which seeks to make you whole after you or your property were injured due to the unreasonable condition of the owner’s land. General tree issues, not causing damage, fall under nuisance law. Nuisance law protects you from interference with the use and enjoyment of your property from some outside force.

If you believe that your neighbor’s tree is going to fall on your house or other valuable property, you should notify your neighbor and see if they can remedy the potential issue. City ordinances may be in your favor and you should call your local city or town to see if they can help. Contacting an experienced attorney will help you formulate a specific and appropriate plan of action to address the issues.

Other Helpful Tips

What About Those Pesky Leaves From My Neighbor’s Yard?! Can I Sue?

However, come fall time, you do not have any remedy for all the leaves blowing into your yard from your neighbor’s tree. Leaves are considered a natural product and you have no claim against your neighbor even if they clog your gutters or pipes. The only remedy you have is to clean the leaves yourself or hire someone.

My Neighbor Has an Apple Tree That Overhangs Our Property Line, Can I Take One?

If your neighbor has a fruit tree on the property line and the branches hang over your property you are not entitled to take the fruit from the tree. Courts have generally held that the fruit belongs the tree’s owner and not the adjoining neighbor. If you do take the fruit you could be liable for damages by taking the fruit and may even be criminally liable.