Tree troubles? Massachusetts laws concerning tree removal

Trees covered with snow and ice, with the words Tree Troubles?

Did you know there are laws in Massachusetts that address the wrongful removal of trees?

The Willful Trespass to Trees statute (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 242, section 7) imposes substantial penalties for wrongful removal of trees. If anyone (negligent contractor, nosey neighbor, etc.) takes down a tree growing on your land (that you wanted to keep), they are liable to you for three times your damages. This is a strict liability statute, meaning that all a homeowner needs to prove is that the tree was taken down by someone against their wishes.

However, if the person that removed the tree establishes that they had good reason to believe they owned the land where the tree was growing, or that they were authorized by the landowner to remove the tree, then they are labile to the trees actual owner for single damages only. For example, if a lot line was incorrectly drawn, and a neighbor removed a tree legitimately thinking it was growing on their land, they are liable for single damages. Likewise, if a contractor was hired to remove a grove of trees and accidentally removed one that was not part of the grove (but legitimately thought that it was) then they are liable for single damages.

What happens when a tree is on one persons property, but roots and branches grow onto the land of a neighbor? In Massachusetts, the neighbor is permitted to trim the branches and roots that grow onto their property.

How about when a trees trunk is on the lot line of two properties? In Massachusetts, one landowner cannot cut down their half of the tree as it would damage the entire tree, including that portion that is not on their land.

Some may wonder what the big deal is, its just a tree. However, trees have historical significance (a Great Basin bristlecone pine in California is more than 5,000 years old), or personal significance (planted by, or in honor of, a lost family member or friend), practicality (shade for your home on sunny days or a good spot for a swing and treehouse), or aesthetic value (some just are nice to look at). Regardless of the reason why a homeowner has a tree growing on their land, its wrongful removal carries with it significant damages, which is why the Willful Trespass to Trees statute imposes significant penalties.