Under Maine law, an individual who cuts down a tree or trees on another’s property without permission may be liable for timber trespass. Pursuant to 14 M.R.S. §7552, an individual may not cut down, destroy, damage or carry away any forest product or tree on land belonging to another without the property owner’s permission. Anyone that does, may be liable for the following:
- The market value of the lost trees;
- The diminution in value of your real estate as a whole resulting from the violation;
- Specific forfeiture amounts depending on the size of the trees removed; or
- If the lost trees are ornamental or fruit trees, or were located within 400 feet of a dwelling, you may be entitled to the cost of replacing, replanting and restoring the trees with trees of comparable size and the same or equivalent species, as well as the actual costs for cleanup of the damage caused during the cutting.
In addition, these damages may be doubled or tripled depending on the degree of fault. If, for example, the trespasser is found to have acted intentionally or knowingly when he/she cut down the trees, he/she will be liable for three times the amount of damages or $500, whichever is greater. If the trespasser’s actions were not intentional but he/she acted negligently, the trespasser will be liable for two times the amount of damages or $250, whichever is greater.
When timber trespass occurs, the owner is also entitled to recover the reasonable cost of professional services necessary for determining the damages, which includes damage estimates, boundary surveys, title opinions and attorney’s fees related to pursuing the claim in court, so long as the trespasser has written or actual notice that a claim is being asserted. This means that if your neighbor has entered upon your property and cut down your trees, you should document the issue, bring the issue to the attention of your neighbor immediately, and provide your neighbor with written notice of your intent to file a claim if the matter cannot be worked out by agreement.
On the other hand, if you are considering removing trees near your property line, you should make sure that you know the exact boundary lines of your property. It is also wise to discuss your plan to remove trees along your boundary line with your neighbor ahead of time to ensure there is no dispute over the course of action. If you are not sure of your property’s boundary lines, have a discussion with your neighbor about it and consider having your land surveyed before taking action. A mistake could be costly and lead to liability under Maine’s timber trespass statute.
If you believe your land or property rights have been violated, it is best to consult with an attorney to determine the appropriate course of action to pursue. If you would like assistance in evaluating a potential claim, contact Perkins Thompson by phone at 207-774-2635.