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Clean up time this time of year we run into plugs and problems with the return of spring growth. Here are some things to consider.

Damaged drain tile. Tree roots from a neighbor’s trees plugged the higher elevation landowner’s drainage tile restricting drainage and causing crop loss. The court cited standard Iowa drainage law that a dominant estate (up-gradient land) has a natural easement over the servient estate (down-gradient land) for drainage and the servient estate cannot restrict or obstruct drainage from the dominant estate. The court ruled the neighbor was liable and responsible for the cost of replacing the plugged tile.

Tree limbs. People own the trees above and below the earth in accordance with the property lines. Once they encroach into the other person’s property, they are their property and their problem to deal with.

  • Under the “Massachusetts Rule,” which Iowa follows, a landowner’s right to protect property from encroaching limbs and roots of an adjacent property owner’s trees is limited to self-help (i.e., cutting-off branches and roots at the point they cross the property line).   A landowner may trim a neighbor’s tree branches from his own side of the fence line. He may also dig up roots from his neighbors’ trees if they cross onto his property. The remedy, however, is limited to self-help. Harndon v. Stultz, 100 N.W. 329 (Iowa 1904) Under the Massachusetts rule, a landowner’s sole remedy is self-help. Michalson v. Nutting, 175 N.E. 490, 490–91 (Mass. 1931). Furthermore, a landowner has no liability to neighbors for damage caused by its encroachments onto another’s property. Herring v. Lisbon Partners Credit Fund, Ltd. P’ship, 823 N.W.2d 493, 496–97 (N.D. 2012). The burden is placed entirely on each landowner to make sure its property is not damaged by any encroachments from neighbors’ vegetation. Although this rule is praised for its simplicity and certainty, it has been criticized for its lack of fairness in depriving “deserving plaintiffs of any meaningful redress when their property is damaged.”
  • So you can cut down your trees on your property, even if means your neighbor hammock is no longer shady to sit in. If somebody cuts down your tree on your property, they can, in certain circumstances, be liable for 3x the cost of the tree. Ownership is determined by where the trunk is. If the trunk straddles the line, you have a split custody issue.
  • Storm Damage. Jurisdictions around the country are acknowledging that a visibly decaying tree is a nuisance, and the owner is responsible for it, even when the limbs fall across into the neighbor’s yard. Nonvisible decay is treated different. Iowa hasn’t clearly articulated this yet.

Fruit. A tree that has limbs hanging over the neighbor’s property still might own the fruit (not the limb) but they have no way to harvest it w/o trespassing. Once the fruit hit the ground, its probably worthless in the eyes of the court (unless its “nut meat” type of fruit) and the fruit owner doesn’t have damages to pursue. States with lots of orchard farms feel differently and allow the trespass to harvest.

Thursday, June 13, 2024
  • Patrick B. Dillon
  • Jill Dillon
  • Tori Beyer
Dillon Law PC
Patrick B. Dillon enjoys finding solutions to legal issues and catching problems for clients. Pat practices in the Sumner office regularly represents clients in district, associate district and magistrate courts for agricultural, real estate, criminal and collection issues. He drafts wills and trusts, creates estate plans and helps clients through the probate process.
Dillon Law PC
Jill is a University of Northern Iowa undergraduate (Political Science Cum Laude) and a Drake University Law School graduate. Jill is a firm owner but not currently accepting private pay clients. Jill still has ties to her family farm operation which includes a dairy herd.
Dillon Law PC
Tori is a University of Iowa undergraduate where she double majored in Criminology, Justice, and Law and Ethics and Public Policy and a North Dakota Law School graduate. Tori practices in the Sumner office. Tori's areas of practice include but are not limited to estate planning, wills/probate, criminal defense, and civil litigation.

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