A happy wedding party was cut short recently when a large tree in a southern California park fell on attendees, killing one and injuring five others. When police officers arrived at the scene, they found some family members who had gathered for wedding photos trapped underneath a large eucalyptus tree.
That is a devastating story, and leads me to my article today. There is an obligation on every owner and/or occupier of any structure and the owner or occupier of any land on which a structure is situated to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the structure or the use of the structure is not a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road and that it does not obstruct or interfere with the safe use of a public road or the maintenance of a public road. I am calling on every landowner or occupier to examine their lands and their boundaries and to assess the trees located on their lands for the safety of the public, including pedestrians and cyclists, themselves and their family members. Examples of hazards might be dead or dying trees, ditches or hedges interfering with traffic, blocking footpaths, obscuring road signs or obscuring a view of the road ahead.
All too often we think that such a devastating thing will never happen to us or on our lands, but if a tree located on your land injures or causes harm to someone he or she may have an legal action against you. Besides being sued, and more importantly, you could injure someone, even yourself or a loved one. We must take responsibility and inspect the trees on our lands. If in doubt, hire a tree surgeon to carry out an inspection of the trees.
Local Authorities have certain powers under Section 70 of the Roads Act 1993 to force a landowner to comply with their legal obligations. Where a structure or the use of a structure is a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road or where it obstructs or interferes with the safe use of a public road or with the maintenance of a public road, a road authority may serve a notice in writing on the owner or occupier of the structure or on the owner or occupier of any land on which the structure is situated to remove, modify or carry out specified works in relation to the structure within the period stated in the notice. If the owner fails to comply within the period stated in the notice they have authority to carry out the work and charge the owner. It is an offence not to comply with the notice and a person guilty of an offence shall be liable on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €1,238.70 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment, or, on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €12,386.97 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment, for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
It is also worth noting that by virtue of Section 37 of the Forestry Act, it is illegal to uproot any tree over 10 years old, or cut down any tree of any age, including trees which form part of a hedgerow unless a felling notice has been lodged with the Garda Station situated nearest to the trees, at least 21 days before felling starts. A Felling Notice may be obtained from any Garda Station or from the Felling Section of the Forest Service of the Department. After receipt of a Felling Notice prohibition orders are normally served. These remain in force pending the issue of a Limited Felling Licence, which can include environmental and replanting conditions.
There are some exceptions where a felling licence is not required, such as trees standing within 100 feet of any building other than a wall or temporary structure or a tree certified by the local authority as dangerous to road traffic on account of age or condition.
Overhanging trees and encroaching roots can cause disputes between neighbours. You are free to cut back any tree overhanging your property but you may not trespass on your neighbour’s property to do so. If you are concerned about a neighbour’s tree, it is best to approach the landowner and outline your concerns. The simplest way to resolve these issues is to talk to your neighbours in a friendly way. If the landowner refuses to acknowledge the problem, you should report the matter to your Local Authority and allow them to carry out an inspection of the tree.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background at Grenagh, Co Cork, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths, 17, South Mall, Cork.
Disclaimer: While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.