We own our home in Upcountry Maui. A while back, we told our neighbors to feel free to trim any branches from the trees located on our property (branches that encroached onto their property). Instead, they came onto our property (while we weren't home) and cut down the trees they "didn't like." The trees were on our side of the fence, which clearly demarcates the property line, according to our survey. What are our options?
- A Concerned Resident.
Complex situations can arise along shared property lines. In a perfect world, all neighborly exchanges would echo the congenial charm of "Leave it To Beaver," but a negative encounter with the person next door can quickly escalate to an unpleasant (and un-neighborly) situation. Boundary disputes involving trees, hedges, fences and obstructed views do occur, even on Maui. What should you do if such a conflict arises?
To start, I'm not a lawyer; therefore these are my best suggestions and do not constitute legal advice. First, attempt to talk out the issue. I know this isn't always possible, but it's worth trying--if you can set your emotions aside to find a mutually beneficial solution. Communication may not solve the problem, though.
Given the description of your neighbor's actions (removing trees they "didn't like"), this could be considered an illegal action--one that is rooted in state law. If the trees in question were "boundary trees" (planted on the boundary line itself), they cannot be removed without mutual agreement. If the encroaching tree's roots or branches pose an imminent danger (or, "actual harm") to the adjacent property, your neighbor may require you to (or offer to help you) cut down the offending limbs.
However, he or she is not--unless they have express permission--permitted to trespass on your property. And in Hawai'i, if an individual deliberately destroys or damages a tree on your property, it is possible to recover actual damages (i.e., the cost of the tree or the cost to replace the tree).
Josh Jerman is a REALTOR/Broker with The Wailea Group LLC, located in The Shops at Wailea at 3750 Wailea Alanui Drive, Ste. 5EW. He serves on the Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) Board of Directors, RAM Education Committee and the Hawai'i Association of Realtors' Finance Committee. To "Ask Josh," send your questions to Josh@JoshJerman.com or visit www.facebook.com/askjosh.