Oakwood prides itself on its beautiful homes and trees. But in a community with one of the highest population densities of any U.S. city its size, Oakwood’s residents live in close proximity to one another — and combined with the age of many trees in Oakwood, this often results in confusion or conflict surrounding the care and responsibility for those trees.
Residents frequently have questions about who owns a given tree, who has the rights and responsibilities to maintain or remove trees, and who is potentially liable for trees that may cause or have caused injury or damage. The City of Oakwood realizes that these become more difficult questions when it is uncertain if a tree is on public or private property, or when a tree appears to lie on the border of two properties.
WHAT’S THE CITY’S ROLE?
Property owners are required to maintain their trees under our code. The city’s involvement in tree issues is ordinarily limited to municipally-owned or -maintained trees. It does not normally extend to privately-owned trees unless there is a violation of the city’s Property Maintenance Code. The city has no obligation to cite or remedy private tree-related nuisances. The city may, at its discretion, occasionally provide assessments of trees when those trees directly abut a public right-of-way such as a sidewalk, tree lawn or street. Although it is permitted and on some occasions warranted to do so, the city will not ordinarily examine, cite, maintain or remove trees that are clearly not city property, even if they are near a public right-of-way. Therefore, all issues involving trees strictly on private property should be resolved by the affected owners.
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE WHEN A TREE OR PART OF IT DAMAGES PROPERTY?
By state law, the city is generally immune from liability for damages caused by trees or limbs falling onto a public roadway, although the city will promptly clear and remove tree debris that falls into the street. For privately-owned trees, liability for damage caused by fallen trees or limbs is normally determined by traditional legal principles of negligence. Ordinarily, when a tree or limb falls, the responsibility for clearing the debris and fixing property rests with the owner of the property onto which the debris landed. If you believe that a neighbor’s tree is putting your property or persons on it at risk, you may wish to give your neighbors notice of the situation. This can be accomplished by politely advising them by letter, email, or other writing. You may wish to rely on the advice of a trained tree professional you’ve hired to view the tree in order to give more weight to your opinion.
HOW DO I HANDLE A TREE THAT STRADDLES THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MY AND MY NEIGHBOR’S PROPERTIES?
In Ohio, when part of a neighboring landowner’s tree straddles the property boundary of a property owner, that owner ordinarily has the right to cut the tree limbs, branches and roots back to the property line — provided the overall health of the tree will not be affected. We remind residents, of course, that open and civil communication between property owners before any such action is taken usually yields the most beneficial outcome. A tree whose trunk rests across a property line is, in Ohio, commonly owned by all adjoining landowners. If a tree is owned in common with others, one person cannot remove or trim it in such a way that would result in harm to the tree. And even if a tree rests solely on one neighbor’s land, if you and the neighbor have formally agreed, or treated the tree in such a way as to suggest, that the tree is commonly owned, then tree may be considered legally owned by all involved parties. The city will not participate in determining the ownership of a tree unless it appears to be on city property. Tree ownership must be determined privately by a qualified surveyor or by agreement of the affected property owners.
HOW DO I RESOLVE DISPUTES AND CONCERNS OVER TREES WITH MY NEIGHBORS?
Citizens are encouraged to resolve tree-related questions or disputes without involving the city. This resolution usually can be accomplished, or at least initiated, by simply making a polite inquiry or request of the other party. If the parties are unable to agree on tree ownership or maintenance, the conflict remains a private civil issue and either party may want to consider consulting an attorney and/or utilizing the court system.
HOW DOES ALL OF THIS APPLY TO BUSHES, SHRUBS, AND OTHER VEGETATION?
Ownership of bushes, shrubs, and other vegetation is determined in the same manner as that of trees, and maintenance responsibilities are generally the same. Property owners are required to keep all vegetation trimmed and clear of streets, alleys, sidewalks, curbs, and other rights-of-way, and are required to maintain the tree lawn adjacent to their property. Grass and weeds must be mowed and maintained at a height of 8” or less.