Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

Q: Our neighbor for years has had a very tall, unkempt tree. It just fell on our yard, and caused plenty of damage. He is liable, right?

-C.D., Fountain Valley

Ron Sokol

A: Knee-jerk reaction: of course he is liable. More studied analytical response: Are you sure that is his tree? In California, the location of the trunk determines ownership; if it started out wholly on his property but the trunk had since extended to your side as well, there may be a level of shared ownership. Assuming the trunk is on his land only, did it fall of its own accord, or did intense weather blow it over, thereby raising an issue of “Act of God,” which could possibly absolve the neighbor of liability? A pragmatic suggestion: Contact your homeowner’s insurance company; if the neighbor is uncooperative, the insurer may fix things and go after the neighbor for reimbursement.

Q: Can we trim the branches from the tree next door that hangs far over our property? We have asked several times but have gotten nowhere.

-D.M., Lomita

A: The answer to this question, like the first inquiry, seems basic common sense: If their tree is hanging over your yard and causing a nuisance, you should be able to trim it back, particularly when you have asked the neighbor to do so to no avail. The case law, however, has made this a little trickier than otherwise: You do not have an unconditional right to cut the encroaching limbs because you have to take into consideration the health of the tree. Bottom line: you have to act reasonably. You should not take actions that so harms the tree it cannot recover. Do what is needed, but make sure it does not harm or destroy the tree. If you cause injury to the tree, it may result in your being held accountable for at least the amount of harm caused thereby.

Q: It would be expedient to have our gardener do some work in the back yard that requires a contractor’s license but he does not have a license. Is that risky?

-P.G., Encino

A: Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1029.8, an award of attorney fees can be made to an injured party who is harmed by an unlicensed person you hired while performing work that requires a contractor’s license.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com. 

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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