Timber Trespass: When Your Neighbor Cuts Down Your Tree!
One of the great joys of living in the Pacific Northwest is the variety and abundance of plant life; including trees. Sometimes, however, one person's abundance is another's over-abundance, and the desire for tree removal arises. We can all identify some of the reasons why: issues of safety, aesthetics, access, view, and the like.
The Neighbor Doesn't Ask Permission To Cut Down the Tree
But problems can arise when neighboring property owners differ on whether and how an undesired (by one of them) or problem tree should be dealt with. Sometimes one party will take matters into their own hands and damage or remove the offending tree without an agreement with the owner. It was a surprise to me upon entering the legal profession that this type of conflict is frequently the stuff lawsuits, and sometimes appellate cases, are made of. I can't count how many veteran lawyers in Clark County I've run into who have at some point handled a timber trespass case.
What is Timber Trespass?
Timber trespass occurs when someone cuts down or otherwise injures a tree or shrub belonging to another (including government entities) without lawful authority, per RCW 64.12.030. The consequences for doing so are no trifle. The law allows the tree owner to collect not simply the value of the tree, but the punitive remedy of “treble damages”, which multiplies the damages by three. One practical effect of the treble damages provision is that in a case where the damages may be small enough that it would be cost-prohibitive to get a lawyer involved, this concern is alleviated, meaning more parties might be willing to bring suit when wronged and more lawyers might be willing to take on the case for the wronged party.
What to do if Your Neighbor Cuts Down Your Tree Without Permission
Disputes over trees with neighbors can be vexing, emotionally draining, and don't usually improve neighborly relations. Rash and illegal action to self-remedy the situation can spur one of these lawsuits which, in addition to ratcheting up the intensity of the situation, can get expensive for all involved, especially the unauthorized lumberjack. If a conversation over the back fence fails to resolve an issue like this, mediation services are available- info located on the county's website at https://clark.wa.gov/county-manager/good-neighbor-relations.