(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com)
My neighbor planted trees on his side of the fence over twenty years ago. Now the roots of those trees have caused my driveway to buckle a little bit. I want him to pay for the repairs. Can I do so?
Signed, the Lopsided Parker
Dear Lopsided Parker,
It seems that the halacha is with the tree-planter in this case. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshain Mishpat 155:32) rules according to the view of Rabbi Yossi in Bava Basra 25b. The tree-planter is entirely exempt and is not even considered a grama. The rationale is that these are considered by socity as acceptable activities that one may do within his or her own area. The same halacha applies to tree branches as well as roots. That’s the halacha.
As far as New York State law is concerned (check with a lawyer and this is NOT LEGAL advice), if you find that your neighbor’s tree is encroaching on your property you must first warn or give notice to the tree owner before you do any work. You have to give the tree owner a chance to correct the problem first. If the tree owner does nothing, then the tree can still be trimmed, but only up to the boundary line.
You also have to get permission to his property. The exception to this is when the tree limbs threaten to cause imminent harm. You should also document this. You may also not 1] cut the entire tree down, nor may you 2] destroy the structural integrity of said tree, nor the 3] cosmetic symmetry and appeal of said tree through improper trimming.
There is a fascinating Midrash (Otzar Midrashim page 538) that states: There are three things that a person must always pray for Divine Mercy. A good year, a good king, and that a dream should be good. Some add a fourth – a good neighbor.
BeKitzur (pun intended), when trimming – you have to be very careful.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org