Urban Landowners in Maryland Have a Duty to Inspect Property and Handle Diseased or Damaged Trees to Prevent Damage to Neighbors

tree limb with symptom of wood decay
Tree limb (on the left) with wood decay symptom. Photo: University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC)

This is not legal advice.

A frequently asked question is what a homeowner can do when a neighbor’s tree has become diseased and poses a danger. The neighbor may be trying to treat the tree to save the tree or might not be able to afford to have the tree taken out correctly by a trained professional. In these cases, courts have found that a residential property owner has a duty to eliminate the danger posed by a diseased tree and prevent the tree from damaging a neighbor’s property. The exception to this would be when a healthy tree causes damage due to an act of God, such as a storm.

Maryland courts have not explicitly dealt with a diseased tree falling on a neighbor’s property. The Court of Special Appeals has dealt with the issue of a motorist injured by a tree limb falling through his windshield. In this case, the motorist was driving through a recently finished subdivision in a natural woodland area of Montgomery County, and the tree limb fell due to the natural decay process. The court highlights that a landowner would need to be aware that the tree was in a deteriorated condition. Urban landowners would have a duty to inspect trees on their properties to determine if trees are dangerous. This duty to investigate would not extend to rural property owners and owners of suburban forests due to the size and number of trees on these tracts of land.

During the inspection, the urban landowner would have to deal with any discovered diseased trees. An urban landowner with a diseased tree would be under a duty to eliminate the danger to prevent the diseased tree from falling or damaging a neighbor’s property. If the urban landowner does not do anything and the tree damages a neighbor’s property, then the urban landowner would face potential legal liability for the damage caused by the falling tree.

Looking at an example, an urban landowner who has a tree with Emerald Ash Borer damage, the landowner would need to either treat the tree and deal with dead limbs that could damage a neighbor’s property or have the tree removed. If the urban landowner fails to do this or the tree continues to decline after the treatments and the landowner fails to do anything, and the tree damages a neighbor’s property, then the urban landowner would be liable to the neighbor for the damages caused by the tree.

tree with emerald ash borer damage
Emerald ash borer damage. Photo: UME HGIC

One case where a property owner might not see liability from damages caused to a neighbor’s property from a tree would be with an act of God. Acts of God are typically events such as storms, earthquakes, or another events outside of human control. If the tree owner can show the tree fell due to the act of God and not due to disease, then the tree owner will typically not be liable for the damage.

Urban landowners with trees need to take into account that there is a duty to inspect trees in Maryland. Excluded from this duty would be rural landowners and suburban forest landowners. If a diseased tree is found on the property, then the urban landowner would need to either treat the tree or have the tree removed to prevent the tree from damaging neighboring landowners. University of Maryland Extension’s Home & Garden Information Center provides resources, for example, on handling issues such as Emerald Ash Borer and other tree pests and diseases.


Hensley v. Montgomery County, 25 Md.App. 361 (1975).

The University of Maryland Extension. Home & Garden Information Center: Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), available at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/emerald-ash-borer-eab (last visited, Nov. 15, 2018).


How Do You Decide When to Remove a Tree? University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center

By Paul Goeringer, Extension Legal Specialist, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland

Ambrosia Beetles Are Behind Those Tubes

ambrosia beetle frass tubes
Sawdust tubes pushed out by ambrosia beetles as they bore into a tree. Photo: E. Nibali

Q: These things like spaghetti pasta were sticking out of our tree that suddenly died. They crumbled when I touched them. Did they attack the tree and kill it?

A: These are sawdust tubes pushed out by ambrosia beetles as they bore into your tree. The tubes are rarely seen this time of year. However, because of abnormal rainfall, some trees are producing ethyl alcohol, a reaction to stress. Alcohol production signals ambrosia beetles to attack. The beetles introduce a fungus into the tree, which clogs up its xylem (the water and nutrient transport system). Since your tree is already dead, it’s hard to say exactly what killed it. Its roots may have rotted or drowned from standing water or saturated, poorly draining soil. The ambrosia beetles may have merely pushed it over the edge. The beetles are not necessarily a death sentence. When numbers are low and a tree is fairly healthy, a tree can recover.

Learn more about ambrosia beetles from Ohio State University.

By Ellen Nibali, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Ellen writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun.

Have a plant or pest question? University of Maryland Extension’s experts have answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask an Expert.

Why is My Tree (Or Shrub or Flower) Dying? Abiotic Problems Could be the Cause

freeze damage on hydrangea
Hydrangea leaves damaged by a late spring freeze. Photo: D. Ricigliano

Professionals in the landscape and greenhouse industry, trained horticulturists, and Master Gardeners often use the term “abiotic disorder” when diagnosing a plant problem. To the layman, this can be very confusing. To add to the confusion, signs and symptoms you see on your plants can look very similar to the damage caused by insects and diseases.

Surprisingly enough, the vast majority of plant problems are not caused by insect pests or diseases. Typically, the first thought that comes to mind when a plant is looking “ill” is that some insect or fungus has attacked it without much thought that it could be something else.

Continue reading

Japanese Maples in Maryland Landscapes: Plant Location & Care Are Keys to Success

Japanese maple leaves
Japanese maple. Photo: Pixabay

The group of small ornamental shade trees lumped under the name Japanese maples, Acer palmatum and A. japonicum, and their many hybrids, are very popular with gardeners and plant enthusiasts. Most of the questions we receive about problems with Japanese maples are horticulturally related to poor growing conditions and maintenance rather than insects or diseases. The causes of these problems are usually root or trunk-related issues. So, let’s start with a look at the planting conditions Japanese maples need in order to thrive.  Continue reading

Q&A:  Why didn’t Japanese maples lose their leaves last fall?

Japanese maple with brown leaves
This Japanese maple retained dried leaves during the winter. Photo: D. Ricigliano

Q:  Most of my Japanese maples are still full of dead leaves. They never exfoliated in the fall to leave bare branches. Will this affect new growth in the spring? Should I just let them be?

A: We have received several questions about Japanese maples that are still holding on to brown leaves that didn’t drop last fall. Some crapemyrtles also have held their leaves during the winter. This issue has been reported in several areas of Maryland, which suggests it is due to an environmental factor. An unusually warm autumn followed by a quick cold snap likely interfered with the trees’ normal winter preparation processes.

As the days shorten in the fall, trees go through a series of biochemical and physical changes to prepare for winter survival. In deciduous trees, this includes the development of an abscission zone of cells where the branches connect to the base of leaf stems (petioles). A layer of cells essentially seals off the branches to protect them from water loss, and then the leaves are shed from the tree. We suspect the fall cold snap interrupted this process and normal leaf abscission did not occur in some trees.

Some types of trees naturally do tend to retain dead leaves during the winter. American beeches and many oaks exhibit this trait, called leaf marcescence. This occurs most often on juvenile trees. It may be a strategy to protect buds from winter damage or to discourage deer browsing. Trees may also wait until spring to shed their leaves, thus providing a fresh source of nutrient-rich organic matter to the root zone where soils are otherwise poor. The exact reasons for leaf marcesence haven’t been determined completely.

There is nothing you need to do for your Japanese maple at this time. If your tree was otherwise healthy, new growth will emerge in the spring and the old brown leaves will drop off eventually.

Sources and Additional Resources

By Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Digital Horticulture Education, Home & Garden Information Center

Have a plant or pest question? University of Maryland Extension’s experts have answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask Extension.