Tree FAQs

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Q: Who is responsible for damage from a tree falling onto City property?

A: A tree located on a homeowner’s property inside the sidewalk is the full responsibility of the homeowner. If that tree were to be blown over onto and damage City property, or a limb fall off and damage City property, the homeowner would be responsible for any such damage. Of course, the homeowner should check their homeowners insurance to see if they have any coverage for such an event.

Ordinary maintenance within the publicly owned property right-of-way (that area between the sidewalk and the curb) is the responsibility of the abutting property owner. However, in accordance with Ames Municipal Code section 22.1, the property owner shall not remove any diseased trees or dead wood on publicly owned property or right-of-way. If a tree located in the publicly owned property right-of-way should be blown over and damage City property, or a limb fall off and damage City property, a claim for that damage could be made with the City.

Q: My neighbor’s tree hangs over my driveway, dropping leaves and branches on my car. Is there a law that says my neighbor must keep the tree trimmed back? Can I trim the tree back?

A: There is no City ordinance on this subject because in mature neighborhoods each lot may have large trees that overhang two or more adjoining lots and visa versa. An attempt to have a standard enforced by the City could easily entangle the local government in a vexing web of unintended consequences. However, a wide variety of disputes concerning encroaching tree limbs have been presented to the courts over the years. Under the resulting common law, when overhanging branches drop leaves and twigs that are not toxic or otherwise inherently injurious, the adjoining lot owner has no basis for legal action against the tree owner. The court’s view is that any other stance would risk making the tree owner liable for natural processes. That judicial policy extends also to tree roots that enter and clog sewer lines. The courts do, however, permit what is called a “self-help remedy”. In that regard, an Iowa Supreme Court decision gives you the right to cut back the offending tree limbs to the property line. Be careful though. Section 658.4 Code of Iowa states that for “willfully injuring” any tree or shrub on the land of another, the perpetrator shall pay triple damages if sued by the tree owner. If limbs are cut back too far, or in a way that a jury might find to be “injuring” the tree, liability could be the result. For details, see: 65 ALR4th 603, Sec. 658.4 Iowa Code, and Harndon v. Stultz, 100 N.W. 329 (Iowa 1904).