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Have a decent neighbor, retired, squared away, likes things neat. His back porch wood got rotten and he claims this is because the shade / humidity of the tree. Can that be true?

  • The mildew was on the side closer to the tree, near the top, so I can see his perspective.
  • But it also turns out the porch was made of wood that was not pressure treated.
  • And the back porch is on the North, so there's maybe an hour in the morning when the sun is blocked.
  • He's getting the porch replaced next week, to building code.

The tree extends about 18" over his property, about three feet from his porch.

If I trim it back more it'll just be bare branches on his side. If I remove the tree (which I'm willing to do if it's right), our small yard will lose a lot of green cover. We have other trees shading the back of our house and seem to do no damage.

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    While I doubt the tree is really the problem, maintaining neighborly relations with a decent neighbor is worth shearing it to the property line at a minimum.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 21:03
  • Something else to consider is that trees shed organic matter. If any accumulates and sits, that could contribute to the issue. You said the guy is tidy, so I imagine he keeps the tree debris off his porch and this is probably a non-issue. Thought I'd throw it out there.... Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 22:56
  • 1
    For an interesting case, search "Rony v. Costa"
    – Tester101
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 16:56
  • To all who replied, thank you very much. I think the key insight is (a) the shade didn't damage the porch but (b) keeping good relations with the neighbor is the point.
    – prototype
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:38

5 Answers 5

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It is almost certain your tree has very little to do with the condition of your neighbor's home. A couple of things to keep in mind however:

  1. Your tree ceases being your tree when it crosses the property line [in the US]. You are neither responsible for trimming that portion of your tree nor can you prevent your neighbor from trimming right up to the line however they wish.

  2. Retiree's tend toward removing trees as a general rule. It reduces maintenance and lawn care. That may be what your neighbor really wants.

  3. North facing exposures [in the US and other Northern Hemisphere moderate climates] are most likely to support mold because they receive less sunlight regardless of tree cover.

  4. Whatever you do, it may not make your neighbor happy. Some people are live and let live and others aren't.

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  • Can you point to a law or ordinance that supports point 1? I've heard this stated from time to time, but never actually found anything to legally back it up.
    – Tester101
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 16:27
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    It's not an ordinance. It's the nature of real property - title/deed to the property includes title to all the improvements upon it [subject to compliance with any legally enforceable covenants upon the title/deed]. This is why there are mechanic's lien laws and title searches and title insurance, etc. etc. If I build a fence on your land, it's your fence [though I may obtain an easement] This is what makes real property real.
    – user23752
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 19:12
  • See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property#Types_of_property
    – user23752
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 19:18
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    Here's Massachusetts Law, which is about as rooted in Common Law as it gets: lawlib.state.ma.us/subject/about/trees.html
    – user23752
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 19:25
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    Civil Code Section 833. Trees whose trunks stand wholly upon the land of one owner belong exclusively to him, although their roots grow into the land of another. So unless you move the trunk of the tree onto their land, it's always your tree. The neighbor could claim the encroaching branches are a nuisance, and then will likely be allowed to trim them back to the property line. However, in doing so they cannot cause "wrongful injuries to timber" (Section 3346 Civil Code).
    – Tester101
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 19:28
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If it were sunnier on his deck, he may have less rot as the dew would dry more quickly and completely. Will removing the tree eliminate the issue? Probably not completely given how crowded things look.

You're certainly not obliged to remove things that block sun from your neighbors property, however. Your house might also qualify as a sun-blocker, but I doubt you'd take that down.

Ultimately you'll have to feel out whats right and neighborly based on your comfort level and your relationship with your neighbor.

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Wood rots because of moisture, not the absence of light. And even when it does (dry rot) that's because of a fungus and fungi like a lot more dark than a few hours of shade a day. The deck was made out of a non-exterior grade wood, it was doomed from the beginning. Your tree might have played a small role in its demise in so far as the shade inhibited the natural evaporation of moisture but that's a long stretch. Buy him a six pack, help him tear out the old one if it makes you feel better but rest assured, that deck was going to rot one way or the other.

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Wood rots, period. His deck would rot eventually with or without your tree. It's impossible to say with any certainty that your tree contributed directly to it. Maintenance, humidity, rodents, etc. are all contributing factors.

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In my state anyone has the right so cut vertically to the sky anything that extends over the property line. They may do that at their expense. And, if your tree were to fall over on your neighbor's car, your neighbor's comprehensive coverage on his car, if he has any, would cover that. Go figure.

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