Facts: A homeowner’s property contains a row of tall trees near the boundary line separating their property from their neighbor’s property. The trees provide the owner with aesthetic benefits, shade and privacy. The neighbor hires a worker to shorten the trees on the homeowner’s property to improve the neighbor’s view. The homeowner files a complaint for timber trespass and is awarded treble money losses for damage to the trees, but not for the owner’s noneconomic loss for their annoyance and discomfort.
Claim: The homeowner seeks triple their noneconomic money losses, claiming they are entitled to treble money losses for both actual tree damage and noneconomic loss since California law does not distinguish between the two when applying treble money losses for timber trespass.
Counter claim: The neighbor claims the homeowner is not entitled to treble money losses for noneconomic harm since California law on timber trespass refers primarily to damage to trees, implying treble money losses do not apply to noneconomic loss.
Holding: A California court of appeals holds the homeowner is entitled to treble money losses for noneconomic harm due to annoyance and discomfort since California timber trespass laws permit treble money losses for actual detriment caused, which also encompasses noneconomic loss in addition to damage to trees. [Fulle v. Kanani (January 31, 2017)_CA4th_]
Editor’s note — Trees whose trunks are planted on one side of a boundary line belong solely to the owner of the property on which the trunks grow. [Calif. Civil Code §833]
A neighboring property owner confronted with encroaching branches and roots from an owner’s tree may resort to self-help by cutting the offending branches and roots back to the property line.
However, in the case above, the obstructed view created by the property owner’s trees does not constitute an encroachment on the neighbor’s property. Further, even when an encroachment exists, a neighboring owner cannot cut the encroaching branches or roots beyond the boundary line, kill the tree or enter the other owner’s property without their permission.