Question. What is the proper measure of damages for wrongfully cutting down your neighbor’s trees?
Answer. The parties became adjoining property owners when Choppers purchased the vacant lot next to Arbors' property. Choppers purportedly intended to construct a house on their property. Shortly after this purchase, Choppers began clearing land without consulting the map referenced in their deed or having a survey conducted. It is undisputed that Choppers removed 29 trees from the Arbors' property.
As you might surmise the first measure of damages is the value of the trees removed from the property. This is of course dependent on the type, age and health of the trees that were cut. An arborist can help in proving the value. The second measure is for the recovery of any damages to the land or improvements thereon caused as a consequence of the cutting of the trees.
The Arbors may also be entitled to treble (double) damages (see RPAPL 861) for the removal of this timber.
Indeed, in order to avoid treble damages, Choppers have the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that, when they removed the trees from Arbors' property, they “had cause to believe the land was [their] own” (RPAPL 861 ).
According to the Choppers before they purchased the subject property, they walked it on one occasion with their realtor at which time Choppers specifically inquired about the boundary lines. The realtor, however, was unable to answer Choppers’ question with any certainty. Specifically, the Choppers admitted that the realtor did not know where the precise boundary lines were that day and therefore Choppers themselves did not know. Choppers also candidly admit that no steps were taken to obtain a survey or consult the map referenced in their deed before clearing the land.
The statutory scheme clearly applies to the facts and circumstances of this case and, it would therefore seem that an award of treble damages would be consistent with its purpose and intent.