April 9, 2010

Know the Boundaries and Respect the Trees

The Washington Court of Appeals recently filed an unpublished opinion that involved Washington’s timber trespass statute. This law requires persons that cut down or injure trees on other people’s land without lawful authority to pay treble damages. In the appellate case, the claimed damages were $225,000, so the total amount of the award was $675,000. This case did not involve a community association, but it does raise an important issue for such associations.

Condominium and homeowners associations in Washington sometimes trim or cut down trees in common areas adjacent to other properties. In many situations, such as when an old or sick tree poses an unacceptable risk to people and property, this is the right course of action. However, associations should also be careful to avoid the liability associated with inadvertently removing or pruning trees on neighboring properties. If there is reason to doubt the exact location of a boundary line, the board should consider obtaining a professional survey before firing up the chainsaw.