Two tree owners may have different ideas of what they want to do with the tree. Sometimes they can’t both have their way.
So what happens? In most (but not all) states, the courts will decide that both landowners own the tree in common. What this means in practice is that neither one can damage the tree without the other one’s permission.
There are, however, some exceptions. If a tree appears to be dangerous, a landowner may be able to remove it without getting the other landowner’s permission. If the tree is preventing the landowner from making reasonable use of his land, then the landowner may be able to remove it without getting the other landowner’s permission. See Higdon v. Henderson, 304 P.2d 1001 (Okla. 1956).
Example: John and Lucy are neighboring landowners. If John wants to cut down the tree and Lucy wants to keep the tree, then John and Lucy can’t both do what they want with the tree. That’s because if John cuts away the part of the trunk that’s on his property, it will kill the tree. At that point Lucy won’t have what she wanted, which is a living tree on her boundary with John. And if the tree isn’t cut down, then John is stuck with a tree he doesn’t want. So this is a situation where John and Lucy both own the tree but one of them isn’t going to be able to do what he or she wants with it. So even though John wants to get rid of the tree and he’s part owner of the tree, he can’t decide all by himself to chop away the part of the tree on his land. That would kill the tree, which is partly Lucy’s property. John has to get Lucy’s permission to cut down the tree or to do anything else that would damage or destroy it.
A tree has been planted on the boundary line between the land owned by Gary and the land owned by Helen. Helen has built a playhouse for her children underneath the shade of the tree. One day, Helen parks her car in front of Gary’s property and refuses to move it when he asks. Gary is angry at her. He decides to teach her a lesson by cutting down the tree. He does so. Helen is now angry at Gary.
a) Who owns the tree?
Both of them.
b) Can Helen sue Gary successfully for the loss of the tree?
Yes, because both Gary and Helen own the tree, and they must come to an agreement before the tree can be cut down.