That gorgeous big old spreading oak has been there a good hundred years, everyone loves it, now. But what happens if that tree becomes an issue among neighbors? When a storm sends half of it through the roof or winds blow it over? If a big limb falls and crushes a car or worse? Tree liability in Georgia can get tricky because the answer may not be so clear cut. Liability depends on three factors: (1) who owns the tree (2) why the tree fell and (3) whether the landowner knew or should have known that the tree was unsafe.

If a tree falls and the fall could not be foreseen by a “reasonable person,” the general rule in Georgia is that the tree owner is not negligent, and, therefore, is not liable for either property damage or injuries to someone. Cleanup of the debris however, is not always clear. Current opinions are that each owner is responsible for clean-up of their individual lot.

An owner is liable for injuries to a person or damage to property caused by their tree only if they knew or reasonably should have known that the tree was diseased, decayed, or otherwise constituted a dangerous condition and the owner failed to take reasonable steps to remove the tree or remedy the danger prior to the injury and/or damage. In the context of tree care, this means that property owners must take measures that a “reasonable person” or “average citizen” would take to care for their trees. Visible and apparent damage is expected to be addressed; there is no obligation to inspect for hidden issues. Owners may be wise to call in an arborist every so often to check the health of trees.

Who owns it? Why did it fall? Did the owner know it was unsafe?

Under Georgia law, if a tree stands on a border, the owners of both lots have an interest in the tree and they are both responsible for the tree. Any property owner on whose land any part of the tree trunk stands owns the part of the tree located on his or her lot. Also, each owner has an easement of support from the adjacent owner and has the right to demand that the other owner use his or her part of the tree so as not to unreasonably injure or destroy the whole tree. Both parties have a duty to maintain the tree and take reasonable steps to guard against any hazardous condition the tree may pose.

So what can a property owner do with a neighboring tree? Owners can trim the branches of a neighboring tree up to the property line. The owner cannot go onto the neighbor’s property to trim the branches. The owner cannot destroy the tree in the process so judgement is required.

Many trees dies years after root disturbance, this is especially true with new construction. New construction contracts are well crafted to prevent builders from blow back; typically there is no recourse for owners. However, if a neighbor puts in a pool, addition or otherwise causes root damage and death of a tree, the owner may have a claim against them for the value of the tree. How that’s determined is another story.

If a tree is a safety concern, let the neighbor know and look to resolve the issue. If the situation appears imminently dangerous, seek help from the local government. Many have an arborist on call that can assess the situation. If deemed a hazard, local tree ordinances will require the owner to remove the tree.

REMEMBER - Georgia is a buyer beware state! If questions about trees exist, do the research... 

Things can get testy in some cases, open lines of communication are best. Communicate with the neighbor; trees are an asset to be preserved when practical. It’s also a good idea to touch base with the home insurance company; research what coverage may apply and how they handle issues before they occur. Being proactive and staying ahead of potential issues is always the best move.

The Hank Miller Team puts 30+ years of full time sales & appraisal experience to work for you. Act with complete confidence & make sound, decisive real estate decisions. 678-428-8276 and

We're not lawyers and nothing in here is to be taken as legal advice. However, we are pretty decent agents and the repetitive advice to treat the purchase/sale of a home as a major financial event holds. Work with professional and experienced agents...always.

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