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UES tree skirmish - who must pay?

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Q.  The branches of a tree belonging to the brownstone next door are coming over the fence and about to touch the windows of my Upper East Side condo building.  Whose responsibility is it to trim the branches and pay for it?  We did it for our tree when it grew close to the window of another nearby building. 

A.  The haircut is on you unless the branches are dangerous or have actually damaged your building, according to a pair of legal experts on our BrickTank panel.

“Even if the overhanging branches cause some small injury, such as minor cosmetic damage or blocking the sun on your newly planted sod, the ‘tough noogie’ rule applies,” says Steven Wagner, a real estate lawyer at Wagner Berkow. “The damages have to be substantial, and you would have to first try to cut down the overhanging branches before entertaining the claim.”

It doesn’t sound like it’s the case here, but if the damages are significant, you could ask the court to order your neighbor to trim the tree—or even better, do it yourself and ask nicely for reimbursement, says Steven Sladkus, a real estate lawyer at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.     He observes that suing for reimbursement might cost more than the actual cost of the trimming.

Be careful when cropping your neighbor’s tree:  Though you are allowed to cut the branches up to the property line, you are not permitted to chop down so many that you kill the tree.

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