Disputes Between Neighbors: Fences, Trees, and Water Issues


Disputes between neighbors happen often. Common disputes include who owns and is responsible for maintaining fences, who is responsible for fallen trees, and water issues.


Fences

Under Texas Law, the fence line does not automatically define the property line. You should always ensure you have an accurate survey. Having a fence built on the actual property line avoids future headaches arising from improper erecting of a fence.


Frequently, questions arise about ownership and maintenance responsibilities for fences. A fence is the exclusive property of the landowner who built the fence. The fence owner is responsible for maintaining the fence. A landowner in Texas has no legal obligation to share in the cost or maintenance of a fence built by his or her neighbor unless the landowner agreed to do so. If the neighbors agreed that each would maintain a portion of the fence, the agreement is legally binding and enforceable.


If building a fence requires clearing land on a property owner and the property owner’s neighbor’s land, the property owner must seek permission from the neighbor.


Trees

In Texas, the location of the trunk of the tree determines who owns it even if roots and branches grow onto the neighbor’s land. Trees located on a boundary line are considered joint property, so one neighbor cannot unilaterally decide to remove the tree without the neighbor’s consent.


A landowner has the right to trim limbs and branches of trees or plants reaching onto their property if no damage to the tree or plant occurs. Limbs and branches can only be trimmed up to the property line. The trimmings cannot be tossed over the fence to the neighboring property.


Trees should be maintained in a manner that avoids damaging a neighbor’s property. A tree owner could be liable for damages if the tree or branches fall due to negligence and causes damages. For example, if the neighbor knew the tree was diseased but did not tend to the problem and the tree falls onto the neighbors fence and home, the neighbor can be liable for damages.


If a tree falls from natural causes such as a storm, there is no property damage liability from the tree owner. In addition, the tree owner has no responsibility for removing the tree from neighboring properties. The property owner of the place where the tree has fallen is responsible for removing the tree.


Water

Neighbors make changes to their properties- sometimes they build a pool, erect a shed, or add some landscaping. When these changes alter the flow of storm water and drains off their property into yours, you may have a cause of action against the neighbor if the new flow of water is causing damages.


In Texas, a landowner has no right to change the course of surface water to the detriment of neighboring properties. Texas Water Code Section 11.086 states that “No person may divert or impound the natural flow of surface waters in this state, or permit a diversion or impounding by him to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded” and that “A person whose property is injured by an overflow of water caused by an unlawful diversion or impounding has remedies at law and in equity and may recover damages occasioned by the overflow.”


Before diverting water, it is recommended to consult a real estate attorney and try to decipher if you will be in violation of this statute. If water is being diverted onto your property, a real estate attorney will be able to decipher if your neighbor is in violation of the statute.

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