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Damage caused by pruning on a neighbouring property can lead to compensation

In disputes between neighbours illegal pruning of plants is punishable by heavy fines. The amount of compensation that can be claimed here will depend on the specific case. Recently, a case was put before the Frankfurt/Main court of appeals (Oberlandesgericht, OLG) where a 70-year-old stock of trees had been pruned.

The OLG Frankfurt, in its ruling of 6.2.2024 (case reference: 9 U 35/23), made a decision in the case of a woman’s large property with a stock of trees that was around 70 years old. The trees had been regularly pruned by a specialist company. At the boundary of the property, although clearly on the woman’s property, stood two trees. The woman agreed that her neighbour could prune back the overhanging branches. Subsequently, when she was absent, the man took this opportunity to enter her property and severely pruned both trees. Thereafter, not a single leaf was left on the birch tree and the cherry tree, which was almost ready for harvesting, had been cut right back. It was not certain if the trees could recover. Thereupon, the woman sued to obtain compensation of almost €35,000. 

However, she received only €4,000 and appealed to a higher court. The OLG referred the dispute back to the regional court. It has to reopen proceedings in order to adequately clear up the matter of how to calculate the amount of compensation. 

According to settled case law, when a tree is destroyed, normally, full compensation does not have to be paid because providing a replacement in the form of a transplanted mature tree is usually associated with high costs and would thus be disproportionate. Therefore, the claim for damages is instead focused on a partial restoration by planting a new young tree and on the entitlement to compensation for the residual loss in the value of the property. 

Outcome: Here, the loss in value has to be estimated. In exceptional cases, the full cost of replacement would only have to be paid if an economically rationally thinking person would at least suggest replacing the type, location and function of the tree with a tree of the same kind. For this reason, when assessing the compensation for damages it will be necessary to clarify the function of the trees for the specific property.

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