Ask a Real Estate Pro
You may need a permit to cut down a tree in your yard.
Q: Last week as I was about to cut down a tree in my yard that was dumping leaves into my pool, my neighbor came running out of his house to tell me I could be in trouble for doing this without our town’s permission. I held off because he was so insistent. Is this true? — Harry
A: Be sure to thank your neighbor because he probably saved you some aggravation.
With few exceptions, most cities and counties require that you obtain a permit to remove a tree on your own property. You must apply for the permit and pay a fee to determine whether you will be allowed to remove the tree.
The rules vary from place to place, so you’ll need to check where you live to see if a permit is necessary. In some areas, certain types of trees can be removed without a permit, along with smaller trees under a certain diameter (usually 6 inches or less). Also, the rules may be different depending on how far the tree is from your property line. However, dead trees typically can be removed without a permit.
Most cities and counties will send someone to your home at your request to help determine what may be removed and what to replace it with, but you will be responsible for the work. If you are hiring a contractor to assist you, remember to make sure they’re licensed and insured.
When you get the permit, you’ll usually be required to replace the tree with one or more trees of a similar size and certain (usually native) species.
If you decide that all of this isn’t worth it and just chop away, you can be fined and charged a replanting fee. Many municipalities have hotlines for homeowners to report offending neighbors. In my experience, folks can get very upset when trees are cut down improperly, so be sure to follow the rules.