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  1. #1

    Default Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    My question involves real estate located in the State of: CA

    We purchased our house 2 years ago. We back up to an elementary school and the school playground is about 10 feet from our property. Luckily there was a mature line of California Oak Trees (about 30 feet tall and growing for 30+ years) that provided a visual hedge, windbreak, and shade. The trees extended the entire length of our property (about 80 feet). With a school playground just behind our house, we wouldnt have purchased the property if it werent for the trees. We enjoyed the trees and pruned our side of them.

    We came home from vacation and the school district had whacked down the trees. My wife cried... for days. Now when we go out side kids on the playground stare at us and say "Hi Mr." Cute right?

    The trees were growing in a three foot wide section of land that was between our block wall and the schools chainlink fence. When we purchased the property we understood the trees to be our trees (there's a slight elevation change between our property and the schools - in the area where the tree are growing. The theory is that the original homeowner built our blockwall where the ground was level.)

    Once the trees were cut down, I hired a surveyor and confirmed our property did extend about 2 feet beyond our block wall... into the area where the trees were growing.

    I contacted the school district to let them know they cut down my trees. They claimed they contacted the City and they confirmed the trees were the schools. I claimed BS (how would the city know whos trees they were) and filed a claim with the school district for damages. The school district turned over the claim to their insurance.

    The insurance company also ordered a survey and confirmed my findings. The surveyor also tried to mark the locations of the stumps (some were completely excavated by a backhoe, others were ground down) and communicated to insurance that some of the trees were on my property, some on the schools and some on the line.

    Insurance contacted me and said that they believe the trees were planted by the school district... and that only in their growing did they impinge on the property line. They claim even if the trees were mistakenly planted on my property that I really have no cause for damages from the removal of trees that another party planted innocently, in good faith, and yet mistakenly onto adjoining (my property).

    I generally understand that trees on the property line are considered boundary trees and are trees in common - which would require my approval to remove them. They are suggesting since the school district planted them they have the right to remove them.

    Thank you for any insights you might provide.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
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    15,932

    Default Re: Boundary Trees - Cut Down by Neighbor (School District)

    You either accept what the school's insurance company is saying or you sue the school district. I think that I would be leaning towards suing the school district. I wonder whose lame brained idea it was to cut down the trees in the first place.

  3. #3
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    Nov 2013
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    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    Quote Quoting Oldfashioned
    View Post
    I generally understand that trees on the property line are considered boundary trees and are trees in common - which would require my approval to remove them. They are suggesting since the school district planted them they have the right to remove them.

    Thank you for any insights you might provide.
    You are correct in your understanding.

    California Civil Code 834:

    834. Trees whose trunks stand partly on the land of two or more coterminous owners, belong to them in common.
    The insurance company is blowing smoke up your kilt . They have no right to cut the trees down because the School District are the ones that planted them whether intentionally, by mistake, or that the trees grew over the boundary.

    Time to see an attorney. Lots of recent CA case law on this issue and you may be entitled to double or even treble damages.

    3346. (a) For wrongful injuries to timber, trees, or underwood upon the land of another, or removal thereof, the measure of damages is three times such sum as would compensate for the actual detriment, except that where the trespass was casual or involuntary, or that the defendant in any action brought under this section had probable cause to believe that the land on which the trespass was committed was his own or the land of the person in whose service or by whose direction the act was done, the measure of damages shall be twice the sum as would compensate for the actual detriment, and excepting further that where the wood was taken by the authority of highway officers for the purpose of repairing a public highway or bridge upon the land or adjoining it, in which case judgment shall only be given in a sum equal to the actual detriment.

    (b) The measure of damages to be assessed against a defendant for any trespass committed while acting in reliance upon a survey of boundary lines which improperly fixes the location of a boundary line, shall be the actual detriment incurred if both of the following
    conditions exist:

    (1) The trespass was committed by a defendant who either himself procured, or whose principal, lessor, or immediate predecessor in
    title procured the survey to be made; and

    (2) The survey was made by a person licensed under the laws of this State to practice land surveying.

    (c) Any action for the damages specified by subdivisions (a) and (b) of this section must be commenced within five years from the date of the trespass
    And the School District was negligent not determining where the boundary line was before they cut down the trees.

    You can't or should I say you shouldn't handle this yourself. The school district is a subdivision of the CA government and therefore, any suit against them has to conform to the Torts Claim Act for notification. If you or your attorney files the Torts Claim notice, you will likely get a much better offer from the insurance company. If you have a valid claim (which I think you do), the insurance co. will be much more responsive to settle before any suit is filed.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
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    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    I agree with the other two that the school has liability here for any interest you have in the trees.

    However, neither the school or its insurance company owe you anything until a court of law says so.

    You will need to file a lawsuit.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    First of all, you can't file a lawsuit against a state government or any subdivision of the state unless you file a Tort Claim Notice. I believe all 50 states have Tort Claim Statutes.

    We don't seem to mention it here on the Forum much but it is a statute that seeks to eliminate frivolous lawsuits and to give the government a chance to settle claims where the outcome will be a matter of law rather than one of facts for a court to decide.

    Generally speaking, when you have a claim against the state government, you have to file a Tort Claim Notice (in the time frame set up by statute) to enunciate what your cause of action will be and what facts you present to support your claim.

    Once the notice is sent, the jurisdiction can analyze the claim and turn it over to the insurers to determine if is a valid claim. A valid claim may be settled without suit. If it is not settled, then a lawsuit can be filled.

    Until that notice is filed, there is really nothing "official" on the record and insurers can say and do what they want.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    Thank you all for your input. I certainly dont want to file a lawsuit.... but I realize that is what it might take.

    I've spent hours pouring over California court cases to find one example where someone planted trees on someone else's property by accident - and then had full rights to cut those trees down - without damaging the owner of the property where the trees are growing. The insurance company indicates they their legal team has such cases.

    Has anyone ever come across such a scenario or case?

  7. #7
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    Nov 2013
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    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    From what you posted, they had no right to cut the trees that were on your property or that were partially on your property. You can acquiesce to what the insurance company is offering if anything. Or you can fight. The choice is up to you.

    What we think or what cases are exactly on point to your situation are not relevant. What do you want to accomplish?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    Quote Quoting Oldfashioned
    View Post
    Thank you all for your input. I certainly dont want to file a lawsuit.... but I realize that is what it might take.

    I've spent hours pouring over California court cases to find one example where someone planted trees on someone else's property by accident - and then had full rights to cut those trees down - without damaging the owner of the property where the trees are growing. The insurance company indicates they their legal team has such cases.

    Has anyone ever come across such a scenario or case?
    I would ask them to produce said cases to avoid this from going any further. I would continue with; otherwise I shall direct my attorney to file a tort claim notice and proceed from there.


    As budwad states; there are time limits to file your claim and in some cases they can be quite short. Do not let the statute of limitations expire, which may be exactly what they are attempting to do with their ambiguous claims of having supporting case law in hand.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    Thanks all. I am hoping to get a settlement that matches what I feel my damages are. To replace trees of the same maturity and size would be at least 100K. I estimate there were at least 5 mature oaks back there. But it's hard to tell now since they destroyed the evidence by grinding stumps and digging out others. I have pictures of the trees but they were trimmed to create a hedge so it's also difficult to see the trunks from the pictures. To return my property to the same condition I would also need to remove my block wall and dig out my remaining stumps/roots before being able to replant new trees. And then build a new block wall. So I could argue even more than 100K.

    Or, I could argue that my property values have been diminished due to the tree removal. I would estimate 25K minumum in property value loss as not many people would not want to purchase a house where kids climb up onto the play ground equipment (about 6 feet high) and have full view of my entire backyard. And then there's the noise, balls and rocks that come from the playground.

    I think I also have a strong case for double damages because the district office did make an attempt to understand who had the right to remove the trees. But instead of contacting a real estate lawyer or a surveyor they asked the City. It would seem the court would hold business professionals (business manager for the school district) to a higher level of accountability than even an typical homeowner. A business manager would be hired for his/her expertise to handle these types of issues appropriately.

    Is there any case for the district to claim perspective easement or adverse possession? I am not clear on how all of these laws play out. The district could assert that since we built a block wall 2 feet into our property that we abandoned the property where the trees were growing. That said, the school also erected their own fence (which created the 3 foot territory the trees grew). As far as I can tell the school did not water these trees. And they hadn't trimmed them on their side for many years. I trimmed my side and the utility company (with an easement on my title) trimmed the tops to keep them away from their power-lines.

    Thanks again!

  10. #10
    Join Date
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    El Dorado County, CA
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    Default Re: Neighboring School Cut Down Trees Between Our Properties

    I doubt very much that the school district planted the oaks. The age of the oaks as compared to when the school was built might answer that one. More likely, the trees were left alone because they were outside the developed area of the school grounds, outside of the property line, or close enough to the property line that neither the school district, the engineer, nor the contractor wanted to risk liability by removing them at that time, or to spend the $ to remove them when it wasn't necessary for development of the school grounds.

    Even if the trees are the same approximate age as or younger than the school, oaks sprout like weeds in most parts of CA and left alone, most will grow healthy for 100 to 300 years. Of all the species of trees that might be considered for planting, oaks would have the least need. As I said, they sprout like weeds albeit, unfortunately for you and your wife, very slow growing weeds. Also, if they were planted, there would almost certainly be an indication of it in that there is almost always a fairly easily discernible pattern to their placement. They will be regularly spaced and either in a pretty straight line or evenly staggered so that you could draw one line where the first tree would be just to the right of the line, the next to the left at roughly the same distance from the line as the first, the third on the right, 4th on the left, and so on, and the distances between trees would be approximately the same between any two adjacent trees along the line of trees.

    The first job of an insurance adjuster is to find a reason to deny the claim and save the company money. On something like this, where there is an initial filing deadline as budwad described, the insurance company will use or even make up facts and excuses that could be true, even though they may have no idea at the time they use them if they are or are not true, and use them to place doubt in the mind of the claimant and cause them to hesitate until they either let the matter go, or wait until it is too late to take action.

    California is a treble damages state when it comes to the improper removal of trees on another's property, although I don't know if the courts would impose the punitive 3x part of the damages against a public entity or under the circumstances (it might be reasonably argued that the location of your wall led some city inspector to believe that it was the school's fence and not your wall that was set back from the property line). However, mature shade trees are well recognized as adding significant value to a property that cannot be easily or quickly mitigated as replacing mature trees is rarely possible and never feasible (thus the treble-damages clause).

    I agree with the others. Get an attorney if you don't already have one. That person will know what must be filed and when it must be filed. Filing the Tort Claim Notice is not the same as filing a lawsuit. It is putting the local agency you have a conflict with on notice that you have reserved your right to file a suit if some settlement can't be reached.

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