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Legally, Can You Plant Trees on a Property Line?

written by: •edited by: John Garger•updated: 4/22/2011

You may be considering preparing your home for spring and summer and considering your landscaping. One of the questions that may arise is can you legally plant trees on a property line. The simple answer to this is no, although there may be some exceptions to this rule.

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    Property Line Rights

    Property Line Trees For those who are trying to find the answer to the question "can you plant trees on a property line", the answer may not be as simple as you think. There are various rules and regulations that are defined by towns and cities all over the United States about the legal rights of property owners when it comes to property lines. While the property line is theoretically considered the line that borders two parcels of land, there may be other circumstances where towns or cities have rights to this land as well.

    Property Surveys

    Chances are that when you purchased your home, a land survey was done. This survey clearly delineated the lines between your property and the abutting properties. In addition, the property may have also shown things like sewer lines, utility poles and perhaps even wetlands that are near the property.

    In the event that there is a sewer line (whether private sewer or city/town sewer) on or near the property line, the owner (private or muncipality) has the right to access that line. In addition, properties that abut wetlands mean the municipality has control over what goes on on the line. These events create what is called a property easement, allowing the owner the right to access your property.

    Easements versus Encroachment

    Easements and encroachments are not the same thing. Easements are created when another property owner (or interested party) requires access to property that may only be accessed from the primary owner's property. In some cases, this could be sewer lines laid by the town or wetlands that are beyond the property line but have no access from the road. In some instances, homes were built behind other homes, resulting in a right of access easement where the homeowner of the back lot could only access it via the driveway from the front lot.

    Encroachments on the other hand are controllable intrusions. Fences, shrubs and trees are common encroachments. In some cases, if a homeowner does not fight an encroachment through the legal system, the property line may eventually be changed.

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    Finding Appropriate Trees

    Property line shrub size When considering the question can you legally plant trees on a property line, it is important that you understand local laws. Most municipalities will not allow you to plant trees that may grow to interfere with power lines or with sidewalks. When it comes to neighboring homes, there may actually be laws in place that are called "spite laws" that will not allow you to plant trees, shrubs or other foliage that interfere with the view afforded to neighboring properties. In some cases, especially if you have been living in your home for several years, you may want to consider having a new land survey done.

    This means that there are numerous things that must be taken into consideration when deciding on planting trees on or near a property line. Some of the factors that must be taken into consideration include the width and depth that the trees are likely to reach (in terms of roots), the overhang onto neighbors property (as you could be liable for damage) and similar considerations.

    Because there may be various laws that specify the space that must be allowed for shrubs and trees, it is typically a good idea to contact a landscaping professional who is familiar with the property line laws in the town or municipality. The last thing you want to do is spend thousands of dollars on landscaping only to find that you have to remove it later.

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    1. Land Surveyors Boundary Disputes
    2. Land Surveyors Surveys: Do I need one
    3. Richmond Hill Planning on Planting Trees or Shrubs on Private Property?
    4. Massachusetts Trial Cour Law Library - Masssachusetts Law about Neighbors and Trees
    5. Find Law Conflicts involving trees and neighbors

    Image Credits

    Norway Spruce via Fichte/Public Domain

    Shrubs: via