Fall 2018

Foliage Follies: The Legal Side of Fall Clean-up Property Disputes Between Neighbors

It’s the time of year when the air is crisp, school is back in session, and football is in full swing. It’s also the time of year when every leaf and branch from a neighbor’s property seems to fall on your side of the fence. Most often, a few more swipes of the rake or leaf-blower will solve the problem. But what happens when the falling foliage causes damage to your property? Or when the encroaching vegetation starts to infringe on other property?

In Maryland, the law is relatively settled that the “infringed-upon” property owner has no legal course of action. In Melnick v. CSX Corp., an individual owned property adjacent to a warehouse owned by CSX Corporation. Trees, branches, leaves, roots, and other vegetation from the CSX warehouse grew onto his property, clogged the drains, and caused significant damage to Melnick’s roof and property. He sued CSX Corp. for the damage.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland determined that Maryland had successfully traversed the last 300 years of adjudication without trying disputes about falling leaves and branches. The Court of Appeals expressly decided that it did not want to encourage this type of litigation that would surely inundate the courts with unnecessary disputes. The Court of Appeals determined that there is no legal cause of action between property owners where the basis is encroaching vegetation and foliage.

However, a property owner is not without recourse to protect his property from his neighbor’s vexatious vegetation. The Court of Appeals encourages property owners to take matters in to their own hands. In adopting the “Massachusetts Rule” of self-help, Maryland holds that a property owner is entitled to trim vegetation and encroaching limbs, branches, and roots “back to the property line” in order to protect her property. The self-helping property owner need not obtain permission or authorization to trim back to the property line. However, a self-helping property owner “may not enter the adjoining landowner’s property to chop down a tree or cut back growth without his neighbor’s consent.”

As the leaves begin to turn and a neighbor’s branches and foliage starts to cover other property, self-help (up to your property line) is the judicially encouraged method of resolving disputes. While a phone call to the neighboring property owner may be wise, as long as the infringed-upon property owner does not cross the property line, he may trim to the property line without hesitation.

For more information on this article, contact Justin Tepe at