Removing a tree illegally usually attracts hefty fines. Therefore, being aware of what is permissible under the laws1 in your area can end up saving you a lot of money.

In most areas, a homeowner needs to have a permit before they can remove a tree on their own property. This is especially true when it comes to threatened, endangered, and heritage trees. And the only circumstances in which most jurisdictions allow for tree removal without a permit is when it comes to dead or dangerous trees. Trees that are considered to be invasive by a given state, can also be removed without having to apply for a permit.

Here is what you should know about tree removal on private property.

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Is it illegal to remove trees on your own property?

While the law governing tree removal varies from state to state, it is generally illegal to remove trees on private property without a permit. This is so especially if the tree that is being removed is considered to be:

  • An endangered tree species
  • A threatened tree species
  • A heritage tree
  • A significant tree that has been included in a city’s Significant Tree Register by virtue of its size, age, or association with an important event in the city’s history
  • In any way protected under the city’s or state’s Tree Ordinance Rules
    Removing any trees that fall in any of the above categories without a permit is generally considered to be illegal even if the trees are on your property. As a result, you can be fined and penalized heavily if you do so.

It is important to note that what is considered to be a heritage tree, an endangered tree, or a threatened tree species is different from area to area. This is because it all depends on the laws and rules that are applicable in the given city or state.

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When can you remove a tree without a permit?

Generally, you can remove a tree without a permit in the following circumstances.

  1. If the tree is already dead or is dying, then you don’t need to apply for a permit before removing a tree. Such a tree is typically considered to be dangerous or potentially dangerous and so homeowners are usually given absolute discretion when it comes to deciding whether to remove the tree.
  2. A diseased tree, especially if it is encouraging the spread of the disease to other trees, can also be removed without having to seek a permit. This is so especially if it poses a danger of spreading the disease to other trees on your property.
  3. Most cities have a list of tree species that they consider to be invasive tree species. Any tree that is included in an area’s list of invasive species can be legally removed without a permit. For example, Connecticut has a list of 53 tree species that it considers to be invasive2. As a result, if you live within the state, you can remove trees like the Norway Maple and Tree of Heaven without a permit.
  4. Dangerous trees can also be removed without a permit. This includes leaning trees, trees whose roots have been uprooted, storm-damaged trees that have split trunks, and trees with precariously hanging branches.
  5. Trees that are generally accepted to be poisonous can also be removed without a permit.

Generally, a homeowner is allowed to remove a tree if it is dead or dangerous.

Why do you need a permit to remove trees on your own property?

You need a permit to remove a tree that is your own property because trees are generally considered to be community-owned.

Trees on your property affect more than just their immediate surroundings. They help to purify the air, serve as shade and habitats for wildlife, and play a significant role in helping to regulate environmental temperature.

As a result, city authorities tend to regulate tree removal simply because it is something that affects the community. And so unless a tree in question is dying, dangerous, diseased, dead, or is of an invasive species, you will need a permit before removing it.

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What is a city tree ordinance?

City tree ordinances are a set of laws, rules, and regulations that are usually put in place by city authorities. They are primarily designed to help manage and protect trees within their jurisdiction.

A tree ordinance usually restricts tree removal. It does so by defining significant trees, designating heritage trees, and listing protected tree species. It also promotes tree planting by requiring that trees be planted in certain areas.

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Can the city remove a tree on private property?

Yes, the city can remove a tree on private property. City authorities usually remove trees, even when they are on private property when they pose any type of danger to the public.

This includes poisonous trees, trees that are a falling risk, or trees that block traffic at an intersection.
Trees that are on private property, but which are damaging city property, can also be removed by the city. And in most cases, cities routinely remove trees that interfere with public utilities.

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How do you know if a tree is dangerous?

A tree is dangerous if it falls into any of the following categories.

  • A tree with large broken, hanging, or damaged limbs, is dangerous. This is because these limbs have a high likelihood of falling. And if they do, they risk causing serious injury to passersby.
  • A tree that has a significant number of dead limbs. Such a tree is dangerous because these limbs
  • A tree that has an imbalance or one that has a lot of weak limbs and an overburdened canopy can also be dangerous. Their poor structure makes them more susceptible to falling during storms. As a result, they can easily damage property or cause serious injuries during extreme weather events.
  • A leaning tree can also be dangerous. This is especially so if the leaning is getting worse. Any leaning that occurs right after a storm, is also a common symptom of a damaged tree that has a high risk of falling.

Tree removal costs

Tree removal costs vary widely depending on the size of the tree, how easy it is to access, and whether or not it is near structures or utilities.

The techniques used to remove the tree, the timing of the removal, and the qualifications of the experts doing the removal, are factors that also play a role in determining what a homeowner eventually ends up paying.

Here is a breakdown of what it typically costs homeowners to remove trees on their properties.

Size of TreeCost in $
Small tree$225 – $500
Medium tree$500 – $900
Large tree$900 - $4500
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