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Minnesota Law and Trees

A Layperson’s Guide

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Note: These fact sheets pertain to the law in Minnesota at the time of their writing in the mid 2000s. The information they contain may not necessarily apply in other states, and they have not been updated since their initial publication. The information included in the fact sheets is intended to be educational, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, consult a lawyer.

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48 Responses to “Minnesota Law and Trees”

  1. kristin says:

    is it legal to burn elm trees? if not, how do you get rid of them?

  2. Profile photo of Eli Sagor Eli Sagor says:

    Hi Kristin. Taking down and chipping or burning elms recently killed by Dutch elm disease is recommended in order to reduce transmission of the disease to other nearby trees. The only legal requirement is to obtain a burning permit. This is particularly important now, during the spring fire season when most of the snow is gone and dead, dry vegetation is abundant before greenup. Here’s how to get a burning permit in Minnesota.
    -eli

  3. ken says:

    I have a neighbor with a large tree that is on his side of the fence but right up against my chain link fence. I believe it originally came up from seed. The tree is now at the point at which any further growth of the trunk will damage my fence, and eventually knock it down. Neighbor will take the tree down but won’t grind the stump. In the case of an encroaching tree that is causing damage, can the property owner be forced to remove the tree and grind the stump? Or does the tree removal alone fulfill legal requirements?

  4. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Ken. Great question. Unfortunately, beyond the information linked on this page, I’m not sure we can offer much specific advice. My guess would be that the property owner would be liable for any damages caused by the tree, including the stump. But you may need to talk to an attorney to get more specific advice on your rights, legal remedies, and how to proceed. You may want to try the UMN Forest Resources Department’s Outreach and Extension Tree Info Line at 612-624-3020 or treeinfo@umn.edu, or our discussion board as well.

  5. Jess says:

    Hi,

    Our neighbor’s tree has dropped a very, very large limb (nearly half of the tree) into our yard and has caused some damage. The same tree dropped another limb on our deck last summer. It also dropped ANOTHER limb on just her property a separate time last summer as well. There was no storm or anything, just dropped the limb because the tree, to me, looks, damaged. After the limbs fell last summer she had someone out to look at the tree to get it removed and she said the estimate was too much, but the guy (maybe an arborist) said that the tree was healthy, but this kind of tree just drops limbs sometimes. She didn’t trim the tree or (obviously) have it removed.

    Last summer we just took care of the limb and the damage ourselves because she said she was not legally obligated to according to her insurance because she didn’t know the tree was a hazard. So today we asked her to pay for removal of the limb that fell last night and she said the same thing. But it looks like according to this, that she is responsible for removing the limb… does my case seem to fit with that? Please help. We’re trying to avoid going to court over this and if we could show her that she is actually legally obligated, maybe she would just take care of it.

    Thank you.

  6. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Jess. For what it’s worth (I’m a forester, not an attorney), my understanding is that if the tree’s stem is entirely on the neighbor’s property, the neighbor is responsible. This is explained best in the article called “Hazard trees and limbs on private property” linked above.

  7. Mike H says:

    My son has a neighbor with a row of mature aspen or poplar trees 30-40 feet tall and one foot diameter trunks, two feet from my son’s property line. The trees appear healthy but both branches and roots extend onto my son’s property. My son is planning a shop addition to his garage but the addition will come within 15 feet of the trees. Trimming braches and disturbing the ground for the cement foundation will certainly disturb these trees. These trees have outgrown the space they were planted in. Are one neighbor’s healthy trees allowed to encroach onto another neighbor’s property such that it inhibits use of the property? This topic did not appear in the discussion above. We intend to talk to the neighbor but we can’t really proceed with my son’s shop until the neighbor’s healthy trees are removed, as they will certainly be damaged if we build the shop. What say you??!!

  8. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Mike. I think the situation you describe is covered in the publication linked above called “Nuisance trees: Encroaching branches and tree roots.” See the section called “What can I do if the roots or branches from my neighbor’s tree encroach into my yard?” They address both trimming trees and disturbing roots from a neighbor’s trees that encroach on your property.
    -eli

  9. Wally T says:

    MnWoods,

    My neighbor wants me to trim our oak tree limbs over hanging on his side and way above his house. they are healthy and not a nuisance. it would hurt the tree to cut that much off it and take it out of balance. is this a self help issue and if so does he need to ask us for permission? im not gonna do nothing to this tree i dont have too and money is an issue.

    “if it aint broken, dont fix it.”

  10. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Wally. By my reading of the “Nuisance Trees: Encroaching branches and tree roots” fact sheet above, it sounds to me like a self-help situation in which the neighbor would have the right to trim the tree at his own expense back to the property line, provided that the tree’s overhanging branches constitute a nuisance and that doing so would not jeopardize the health of the tree. As for what exactly constitutes a nuisance or would jeopardize the health of the tree, attorneys or professional arborists may be in the best position to answer that. Good luck! Hope you can get this resolved to both your and your neighbor’s satisfaction.
    -eli

  11. Shauna says:

    Hi, My name is Shauna and I was wondering if there is a way to save a tree by marking it a landmark in Minnesota? My Unkle has a beautiful cottonwood tree in the country that is over 100 feet tall and has been there since 1934. MNDOT recently wants to cut it down because of it’s proximity to a county road. This tree is not sick or dieing and is located on a curve where most people look for the tree to slow down for the curve. Please let me know if there is anything you could recommend I do to try to save the tree. Thank you, Shauna

  12. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Shauna. I’m afraid I don’t know of any options to give your tree special protected status. Trees close to the road, particularly near curves, can create hazards that are serious, particularly when road conditions are icy (a condition that heavy shade on the road can exacerbate), when wildlife are present, when other vehicles are present (e.g. if an oncoming car were encroaching on the other lane when rounding the curve), or when visibility is reduced by fog or precipitation, or of course any combination of these things. While large trees have many benefits, if they create safety hazards it may be best to have them removed and replaced in safer locations. One upside in this particular case is that cottonwood trees grow very quickly! If this tree does need to come down, perhaps you and your uncle can plant a couple of new ones nearby to replace it.

    Sorry I can’t be of more help. I hope you find a workable outcome for your situation.
    -eli

  13. Shannon says:

    My neighbor has a black walnut tree right on the property line. About 75% of the branches hang over my yard. The problem is the thousands and thousands of walnuts falling on my roof, patio and garden. The walnuts have broken tree limb on new trees I planted, break my pots, stain my patio, hatch thousands of flies, stain everything and cause me an hour a day cleaning and picking up of walnuts. Neighbors refuse to cut it due to cost. I have spent over a thousand dollars trimming branches on my side over the years. I would be happy to pay for half of the removal instead of wasting my money removing the limbs. I basically can not be in my yard from Aug-Oct due to the immense amount of walnuts falling. I have picked up 1200 in the last three days alone. Add that to the 3000 I’ve already picked up and the thousands more up there. Can anything that can be done to make them cut it down?

  14. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Shannon. The fact sheet linked above called “Nuisance Trees: Encroaching branches and tree roots” lays out a number of options to mitigate the damage and frustration that the tree has caused you. Unfortunately, those options generally include the kind of steps that you’ve taken in the past, such as paying to have the branches that overhang your property cut back.

  15. jenny says:

    i planted a tree about 5 years ago in between my property and my neighbors property. it is half on mine, and half on his. the tree was about 10 inches around so 5 inches on my property and 5 on his. back then he didnt want me to do it but it was done and he took no legal action. he grew to like the trees but so many years later they were dying. i cut them all down (there were more then one but only one was half on his property) i plan on putting up a fence on my property along with new ALIVE trees. What do the laws say about this? I tried to approach him a few times before I cut it down but he basically ignored me. He was fully aware that I wanted to cut them down and out up a fence but he wouldn’t respond so I took action. he says he is going to sue me. could he win? i live in minnesota if this helps.

  16. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Jenny. Your question is best addressed in the fact sheet above called Nuisance Trees: Encroaching Branches and Tree Roots. Look for the section called “Who owns a boundary tree?”. As a forestry educator and not an attorney, I’m afraid I don’t know how about the likely outcomes of a possible lawsuit over your situation.
    -eli

  17. Mickie says:

    Is it legal to cut down trees on your own land for your own use of fire wood not for sale?

  18. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Mickie. Yes, it certainly is–you own the trees on your property and are free to harvest, plant, or otherwise manage your woods as you see fit. If you’re referring to city trees on a residential lot, there may be restrictions or permits needed, but in the woods that is not the case. Chapter 9 of Extension’s book “Woodland Stewardship, 2nd Edition” (full text available at the links) addresses a number of considerations in harvesting timber, including Minnesota’s voluntary site-level forest management guidelines. Harvesting firewood can be an excellent opportunity not only to generate a (very) local, renewable energy source, but to shape your woods to ensure future productivity, health, and vigor.
    -eli

  19. Travis says:

    I have around a 5ft by 30ft of small trees in my back yard. we are looking to remove these but I was told that we couldn’t remove them. No reason why was given. Any where I can look to find out if I can remove these trees and reclaim my backyard.

  20. Kal says:

    I have a very large cotton wood tree that over hangs the house and deck. It constantly sheds, leaves sticky buds, and worries me it will fall in a storm. Can this tree be removed? Are there any rules against removal of cotton woods? Thank you!

  21. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Kal and Travis:

    While some neighborhood associations or municipalities may have rules, ordinances, or permit requirements associated with tree removal, in general as the property owner you are free to remove trees on your property. I suggest that you check with the relevant authority in your area, either at the town hall or, if appropriate, the neighborhood association or other entity.

  22. Paula says:

    We have a red maple tree that is on our property. The branches do overhang our neighbors yard but they in no interfer with their freedom of movement, the branches are at least eight feet off the ground. Can they trim the branches that over hang without talking to us first?

  23. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Paula. The best answer to your question appears in the fact sheet above called “Nuisance Trees: Encroaching Branches and Tree Roots.” Click that link in the list above, then on the first page look for the section titled “What can I do if the roots or branches from my neighbor’s tree encroach into my yard?” Hope this helps.

  24. Bonnie Gryniewski says:

    I talked to my neighbors 4 yrs ago about cutting an elm tree which was growing too close to my home, I think it was started from seed. The trunk plus about 15 feet of the tree is located on my neighbor’s yard, but the rest of the tree is hanging over on my land and now is touching my roof. I would say the tree is about 50 feet tall, it has been growing since before I moved into my house which was 2002. I talked to my neighbors about it and their response was not pleasant and stated it was their tree and nothing I could do about it.

  25. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Bonnie, that sounds like an unfortunate situation. But, as noted in the fact sheet above called “Nuisance trees and encroaching branches and roots,” the neighbor may not be correct that there’s nothing you can do about it.

  26. Rose says:

    My chinese elm is a very large but healthy tree (I had a certified arborist come last summer and look at it.) However, it needed trimming and so it was trimed back so that nothing hangs over the neighbor’s back yard. It does produce lots of seeds and they go all over, including into gutters (mine and theirs). My neighbor is angry about that and throws his gutter refuse into my yard since it is my fault (he has lived here before I moved in) and now, with some storm damage, he had one or two large branches come down in his yard most likely from the other neighbor’s similar tree. He has thrown them into my yard as it is my fault and insists I cut down this healthy tree. I can’t afford to plus it is healthy. Is it my responsibility to clean up his gutters and branches in his yard? They did not do any damage I know of.

  27. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Rose. Sorry to hear about what sounds like an unpleasant situation with your neighbor. The fact sheet linked above called “Hazard trees and limbs on private property” suggests that if a defect in the tree that led to the branch failure was obvious and the owner neglected to take care of it, then the tree owner is responsible. This may be difficult to determine now that the branches are down. I suggest reviewing that fact sheet and, if necessary, contacting an attorney for further guidance. As for the seeds: I am no attorney, but I would guess that he would need to prove that the seeds came from your tree on your property in order to recoup any expenses incurred in the gutter cleanup. That might be difficult if there are other elms nearby. Of course, by far the best way to handle the dispute would be amicably between neighbors. Hopefully the two of you can reach some mutually agreeable resolution. Good luck!

  28. Kathy says:

    We have a raspberry like tree that is growing on our neighbor’s fence line (our side – grew from seed it looks like). Doesn’t bother us but my neighbor hates how it overhangs blocking light and dropping berries ( I would hate it too – and have the same trees from another neighbor that hang over onto our yard). I just cut to the property line so the back neighbor’s branches don’t hang over – easy. The poblem is that my neighbor whose fence is against the tree wants us to go into her yard and cut down the branches that hang in her yard. Is this our responisbility to garden their yard? Shouldn’t they just cut and care for their own? I do and I wouldn’t care at all…it’s on their property. What is proper etiquette? Also…technically it is their property becasue their fence is a foot inside their propery line. Just curious….we do really like them. Thanks!

  29. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Kathy. Either of you has the right to cut the branches that encroach on the neighbor’s property. If the neighbor views the tree as a nuisance, she has the right through “self help” to cut the encroaching branches on her own. Of course you do as well. (More detail is in the fact sheet above called “Nuisance trees and encroaching branches and roots.”) This sounds like a situation where the two of you just need to come to an agreement! If it’s any help, the berries are delicious… Sounds like a mulberry tree. I had a few berries from my backyard today. Maybe you can settle it over pie.

  30. kim says:

    My parents have some trees that they want cut down in front of their summer home. The company they asked to come in and do an estimate said that one of the trees can not be removed as it is a “state tree”. What does this mean and why can’t they remove it?

  31. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Good question Kim. Are you sure the trees are on your parents’ property? Generally the property owner has the right to remove trees on their property. If you’re sure the trees are on your parents’ property, I would call the tree service back and see if they can give you a more detailed explanation.

  32. kim says:

    Yes, these trees are on my parents property. They are between the cabin & the lake – right in front of the cabin actually. Is there a law that states you can’t remove a tree if it is a certain distance from the water?

  33. April says:

    Hi I was wondering about a walnut tree on the right side of my drive way. I believe it fits a the description of a nuisance tree. We are having trouble with the walnuts falling onto our vehicles causing dents in it. Last Mon. a walnut fall and hit the windshield causing it to spiderweb. We went though home owners insurance and it was not covered. My car insurance will cover with a 500.00 deductible. But this has cause continue problems with our vehicles. I have talked to the neighbor and he has no interest in cutting it down. Is there anything else besides “self help” rule that may help me with the tree or recouping my continue damages. Thank you April

  34. Mary Mason says:

    Earlier this spring my next door neighbor complained that a couple of my trees were too close to the electrical lines going to their house and demanded that I have them trimmed and also pay for the work. I told them that they could have the trees trimmed up to the property line but that they were responsible for getting the work done and paying for it. I gave them the name and phone number of an arborist I had used. I heard nothing further from them and concluded that they had decided the work wasn’t necessary. But today I went out to my yard and discovered they’d trimmed the trees and thrown all the branches in my yard. Some of these were quite large and had damaged some of my shrubs. When I went next door to ask them to remove the branches I got a furious earful about what a bad neighbor I was because I didn’t get the trees trimmed five months ago at my expense. Are they responsible for getting rid of the branches, or am I? Thanks!

  35. Profile photo of Eli Johnson says:

    I have a slight problem. I live in Lindstrom Mn and my city came through and trimmed my tree. They said it was in their right of way so they have a right to trim it. I asked for the feet of right of way they told me 30 feet from center line. I measured 30 from center line and the tree was 17 ft on my side of right of way. I contacted the city’s admin and was told tough luck we are not going to fix it or replace the tree. They did a hack job on my silver maple. Is there a MN law that says the city can’t come on to your property to do any work without your consent?

  36. Sam says:

    Hi, needing some info about a tree overhanging the roof of our possible future home. It is a big tree, if it fell it would destroy the cabin underneath it. My question is this, can I have the tree trimmed on a lake lot that is very close to the water, to possible save our roof from being damaged? We don’t want to remove the tree but the branches would definitely do some damage if they were to fall during a storm.

  37. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Sam. If an arborist can physically get to the tree to trim it (virtually certain that they can unless it is in a very challenging spot), then have at it. Unless there are ordinances specific to the lake or neighborhood, you have the right to plant, prune, or remove trees on your property.

  38. Mark Andersen says:

    I have a neighbor you has some very tall pines. One leans very heavily over my property right where I park. It keeps leaning further and I brought it to his attention and he says thats why I have insurance. It leans so far that I could cut the whole top 2/3 that hangs in my yard. Can I leagelly do that ?

  39. steve says:

    Can a neighbor cut down trees that they say could fall on their cabin/camper? I own 100 acres of timber that has been there forever.

  40. Jeanette Monte says:

    We have a fabulous 75year old Elm tree, on the private property of our yard, that we have nurtured and cared for, for 20 years. The city has now decided to put sidewalks in our neighborhood, one originally designed without concrete walks. The consequences to us particularly regarding this construction is that the city will not only be cutting into the roots for the project, but installing a 2+ foot vertical barrier in to keep the roots, once healed, from disrupting the walk in the future.

    We are very concerned about the health of the tree, something the city has stated they are interested in, but has only verbally assured us “it will recover”. Our concern is that the damage to the root structure of this mature tree is going to have a devastating effect on the Elm – thus the neighborhood canopy and eventually our property value.

    We need some advice regarding potential negative effects to the health of our tree as well as our rights if the city does in fact cause devastating damage to it.

    Thank you!

  41. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Mark. This is covered in a couple of the fact sheets that are linked above, in the post. Today I fixed some broken links that made some of the fact sheets inaccessible. They should work now. Check the fact sheets on Nuisance Trees and Hazard Trees and Limbs on Private Property (links above). If you still have questions, let me know. Hope this helps.
    -eli

  42. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Steve. Funny, your question is just about the mirror image of one submitted by Mark below. I’ve fixed the links to the fact sheets above, and they should answer your question. Check the fact sheets on Nuisance Trees and Hazard Trees and Limbs on Private Property (links above). If you still have questions, let me know.
    -eli

  43. Profile photo of MyMNwoods MyMNwoods says:

    Hi Jeanette. That sounds like a difficult situation. While there are benefits to the community of having sidewalks in terms of public safety and livability, there are also tradeoffs in the form of damage to trees. I hope that in this case the damage to your elm will not be overly extensive. We do have an Extension guide to protecting trees from construction damage, but in general it refers to things like avoiding root disruption, which may not be an option in your case. I hope the guide helps and wish you the best of luck!
    -eli

  44. Jared says:

    Hi there!
    I recently noticed that a pine in my yard, very tall and straight once, has developed an “elbow” about six feet off the ground, and is starting to bend toward my garage off the alley. The tree is quite tall, I’m guessing 40-60+ feet, I’ve climbed to the very top in the past and could look down on the roof of my 2 story+ attic house.
    A couple years back a huge oak was removed from between my and my neighbor’s house, and since then the pine has been getting the western sun full blast every day – I think the dry direct sunlight killed it because the sun facing side is mostly brown and dodgy now. It’s bending away from the light, toward its slightly greener (still unhealthy looking) east side.
    It will definitely fall on my garage, but may also pull down the power lines in the alley, and it may shunt sideways a bit and take out my neighbor’s camper, boat or car, depending on whats in their driveway at the time. Obviously, I’d rather avoid this.
    I know I can cut it down piecemeal, I’m a competent climber with harness and ropes. Its got no large boughs, and one single trunk that goes straight up. The branches are just 2–3 inch ladder rungs all the way to the top. I’d remove the branches (leaving about 10 – 12 inches for footholds) on the way up, then start taking out small sections of the trunk on the way down. I’d use a reciprocating saw for the branches and a small chainsaw for the trunk. But even just removing the branches may buy me a couple years. The weight of wind and snow is what really worries me.
    Anyway, am I allowed to chop down this tree myself? Its in my back yard and not really visible to the street at all. And its definitely going to crush my garage in the future. I don’t want to be forced by the city to pay someone to do this though, because its cheaper to let it fall and just pay my insurance deductible. Oh, I live in Audubon Park — Minneapolis.

  45. Annie says:

    I was following your advice to Kim (above) about the trees on her parents lake property. We have a similar situation with 2 old cotton woods that are 5 feet from shore but on our legally surveyed property. They are rotting and falling apart, large branches splitting away in every storm. We’re worried our grandkids will get hurt and can’t enjoy our lakeshore. The roots are exposed about 6 feet up and worn hollowed out all the way under the trees. Every tree service we’ve talked to says they need to come down, but someone told us we can’t because they’re too close to lakeshore. Help! I’d welcome any and all suggestions

  46. Eleanor Burkett says:

    Annie,

    You will need to determine if the area where your trees are above or below the ordinary high water level (OHWL). The MN Dept of Natural Resources has jurisdiction below the OHWL and usually the county or city (if the property is in a city) above the OHWL. Contact the MN Dept of Natural Resources hydrologist, your local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) or your county land department to get help in determining who has jurisdiction, if the trees are a safety hazard, whether you can cut the trees, if you need a permit, and what to do with the materials if you do cut them.

  47. Michael Forrest says:

    I have a huge Dutch elm that is infected on my property. I got estimates between 5-8K to take it down. I can do it myself for 900 bucks or less with a 51 foot lift. I am worried that if i try to get a permit, they will say that it has to be taken down by professionals, essentially forcing me to pay thousands. Im thinking about just going for it. I absolutely know i can pull it off. Is making me use a tree service even legal? The tree goes over my neighbors roof, he is fine with me doing it myself and will put it in writing. Do i not pull a permit and just do it for 900 bucks, my thinking is that whatever fine that i get won’t be anywhere near 5-8K and it will get done safely and ill save real money. Im worried that if I try and obtain a permit, they will say that its just too big of a job for a homeowner, at which point they might be watching me a little closer. It one of the tallest dutch elm in the state. Im not paying 8K. Your thoughts?

  48. Gary Johnson says:

    Michael,

    Well, you’ve already stated that you refuse to pay for its removal, so to me that means the end of the discussion. My advice is that rather than project what your city may say about removing the tree yourself, call the city to see what their restrictions are. My second piece of advice – since I’ve removed a lot of large trees in urban areas – is to call your insurance agency to make sure you are covered if/when the tree lands on your neighbor’s physical property. Good neighbors tend to get pretty testy when they’ve experienced damage from this type of activity.

    If your city says it’s not illegal to remove a tree on private property, your neighbor is aware of the potential hazards associated with it and is comfortable with your assurance that your insurance will cover any and all damages, your insurance company is willing to be responsible for any damages associated with its removal (personally, I’d get that in writing and if you feel comfortable removing one of the largest American elms in the state near your home and your neighbor’s…go for it. It sounds like you have the right equipment and experience to do this. I wish you the best of luck and safety as you do this. Oh, yes, if there are above-ground utilities near the drop zone, it would be wise to call the utility company/ies to make sure there’s no other associated liabilities.

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