Real Estate Law Considerations for Fallen Leaves

Neighbor Issues and Real Estate Law by Ashlee D. Gonzales, Esq.

Some Californians believe that California does not exhibit autumn colors. That is because most of the population lives near a coast, where Mediterranean plants dominate the terrain. However, California boasts some of the most beautiful autumn sceneries in the country. The changing colors of leaves means that piles of leaves on the ground are soon to follow, so here are some real estate law considerations about leaves that you should know:

Leaves & Flooding

After Hurricane Patricia made landfall in Mexico as the strongest Pacific hurricane in history, the predictions about a torrential El Niño intensified. Storm drains and rain gutters that get clogged by leaves is one of the most common sources of flooding and property damage. In dry conditions, fallen leaves and debris will slip into gutters without commotion. But when a torrential downpour occurs, the accumulation of leaves can create a blockage of gutters and result in flooding. Leaves that are not regularly gathered and maintained can cause unnecessary storm drain blockage, so make sure that rain gutters and storm drains on your property are cleared of debris.

Encroaching Tree Dumping Leaves

If the leaves are falling from a branch that is hanging over your yard, you can trim the offending tree branches back, all the way up to your property line. However, your tree trimming cannot affect the structural integrity or cosmetic appeal of a tree, and cannot extend on to your neighbor’s property. Talk with your neighbor before attempting to trim trees on your neighbor’s property.

Boundary Trees & Storm Damage

The responsibility for fallen leaves and for storm damage from a tree can be dependent on whether or not there is shared responsibility for the tree. If the tree trunk is wholly in neighbor’s yard, it belongs to the neighbor, and they are responsible for the tree. However, branches and leaves from a boundary tree — or a tree that is on the property line — are the responsibility of all owners. If a neighbor’s tree falls during a storm and causes damage, they may be responsible for the damages. If the neighbor took reasonable care to maintain the tree branches and the branches didn’t pose a reasonable threat of falling, then the “Act of God” principle potentially admonishes them from liability. However, if the neighbor demonstrated negligence by not providing reasonable care and maintenance, then they could potentially be held liable for damages caused by a storm.

HOA & Lease

The Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CCRs) for your Home Owner’s Association (HOA) may contain specific provisions about landscape upkeep, including responsibility for fallen leaves. For renters, your lease may contain information about whether the landlord or the tenant is responsible for yard and tree maintenance. Read your CCRs or your lease for more information about leaves & debris from trees.

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