Here is an important, and in this case, costly, rule about trees in California. If the tree has any portion of the trunk on your neighbor's property, you may not remove it or damage it without permission. It is a jointly owned and you can be out a bundle for not looking DOWN as well as up to see where the trunk comes out of the ground.
legal website in Los Angeles, 2012.
In a most interesting case published by
the California Court of Appeal on August 29, 2012, the Court determined
that a neighbor who cut down a single 70 foot tall Aleppo Pine tree
straddling the boundary line between two properties was liable to the
adjacent owner for $107,256.00!
The facts of the Kallis vs. Sones
decision are straightforward. Kallis bought his Los Angeles property
in 1955. His next door neighbor, Sones, purchased his lot in 1977.
The Pine tree likely started growing on one side of the line or the
other, the expert witnesses believed. Over the years, however, as the
tree grew and the trunk widened, the tree’s trunk came to straddle the
line. Nothing unusual there.
What made the tree abnormal is that a few feet up from its base, the
trunk split into two separate, but still large trunks. One of those
trunks grew over the Kallis property and the other grew over the Sones
property. Each trunk supported a fully developed system of branches
and limbs above it.
The secondary trunks were distinct and far enough apart even at their
bases to allow room for a metal property line fence to run up and
through the crotch of the tree.
In 2008, Sones, who became concerned that the tree could topple and
cause damage, hired a worker to cut it down. However, instead of just
severing the portion of the tree on the Sones side of the property line,
the laborer sawed off both of the secondary trunks, leaving just a
large stump in the ground. From that remaining stump, one could clearly
see where each secondary trunk originated and how large it was at the
base. In fact, both secondary trunks measured about 23 inches in
Also, about 59% of the trunk was on the Sones’ side, whereas 41% was of the trunk was on the Kallis side.
In 2009, Kallis sued Sones for wrongful cutting and removal of the timber.
At trial, Sones admitted to cutting the tree, but argued that he should
only be responsible for 41% of the total value of the tree since Sones
owned the other 59%. Perhaps that made sense, but it did not persuade
At trial, the Court found that the cost to replace the tree was
$53,628. It then doubled the amount (as allowed pursuant to California Civil Code §3346), and entered judgment against Sones for a whopping $107,256!
Sones appealed, but the Court of Appeal affirmed the Court’s ruling.
The appellate court determined that there were two alternate measures of
damage that the trial court could have assessed:
• The cost to replace the tree; and
• The reduction in the market value of Kallis’ property after the
tree was cut as compared with the value of the property before it was
Because the trial judge had found that Kallis was likely to replant a
tree similar in kind to the one Sones destroyed, the appellate Justices
upheld the “cost of replacement” measure of damages as the proper
approach. (The diminution of the value of the real property probably
would have been less than the replacement cost of the tree. Had the
property been on the market for sale, it is likely that Kallis would
have only received damages equal to the reduction in the value of his
What you can learn from the Kallis vs. Sones case is that before you chop down a tree (or hire someone to do it for you), be certain that it is entirely
on your own property. In that regard, it would be wise to obtain a
survey plotting the location of the tree if you have any doubt as to
which side of the property line the trunk is located.