I have a neighbor that lives directly behind me who planted three weeping willow trees at the bottom of his yard. The trees are about 20 feet apart from each other. One in each corner and one in the middle forming a row. There is sewer drain for the septic tanks and drainage from rain within 10 feet of the trees that runs in between the yards. Our average lot size in the neighborhood is less than a half acre.
The first owner planted them as saplings about 3 years ago. They have grown extremely fast and I have had several people tell me that these trees will be a huge problem down the road. I explained that to the person who bought the house almost 2 years ago and he just laughed and said it wouldn't be his problem because he would not be living there when it became a problem. My neighbor just sold his house this week. Unfortunately, I like where I live and do not want to move for a very long time. What should I do?
Please answer this request so I can share it with the new neighbors if the trees will more than likely be a problem down the road. Especially assuming several neighbors have finished basements.
Eric from Fishers, IN
It's true that willow trees (and their roots) grow very rapidly. Their roots often wreak havoc when planted to close to sewer lines, septic tanks or drain field lines. A weeping willow grows to a spread of about 35 feet and their massive root system can be expected to spread AT LEAST that far. Because sewer lines provide the perfect growing conditions for these aggressive, water-seeking roots (loads of nutrients and moisture in an environment with a fairly constant temperature), they should never be planted anywhere near a septic system or drain field.
Although plenty of plumbers may disagree with me, I'm not a fan of pouring chemical treatments into septic systems to control root growth. They are limited in their effectiveness, not to mention that anything you flush into your septic system ultimately ends up in local ground water. Administering copper sulfate can be an effective measure at stopping growth, but care needs to be taken as it can also eat through metal pipes and plumbing components. Mechanical removal of the roots is another option, but they can always grow back. The best solution is probably to remove the trees and replace them with a less aggressive species (avoid maple and poplar).
Laws vary from state to state, but in most cases liability for natural conditions are based on the principles of negligence. In other words, homeowners are responsible for exercising ordinary care and maintenance of their property in order to avoid injury or damage to others. I'm only guessing here (this is NOT legal advice), but I would assume that as long as your new neighbors are made aware of the damage their willow trees could eventually cause to your property, they would ultimately be held responsible for assuming the financial costs of repairing any damages. On the other hand, if they are not made aware of it, they can't act to prevent it and therefore may be able to defend themselves legally by saying "if we would have known about it, we would have acted." Because you can't control the removal of these trees, all you can do is try to protect yourself legally and financially. When I consulted a real estate expert on this matter, here is what she said (incidentally, this particular realtor is licensed in Florida.)
"...I believe that notification to both the listing and selling agents would be a good move. The "catch" here is that until damage is done, the owner may be of the opinion that there is no existing damage, therefore it is not his responsibility to deal with something down the road that may or may not happen..."
I agree with this advice, and would add that a certified letter that plainly and clearly states your concerns should be used to notify both parties. Keep the tone of your letter courteous and friendly-you just want to make sure your new neighbors are aware of the situation. If you think this is going overboard, just send a regular letter but make sure you keep good records. If you want to get really technical, you might include the recommendations of either a licensed septic technician or a tree service professional that has performed an on-site assessment of your situation.
You may also want to contact you local Department of Public Works or consult a septic service professional for their recommendations on the best way to protect your system from possible future damage. On the bright side, it sounds as though the trees are located in an area at the bottom of a slope. If nutrients and water collect in this area naturally, the trees will be less inclined to send out their roots looking for them.
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Eric, I'm confused! Why would this be a problem .. I don't get it?
Dear Eric, you are right to be worried. At my childhood home we had a beautiful weeping willow tree outside our back door which shaded the area well. We loved this tree and were devastated when we had to remove it because the roots had gotten into all the pipes around the house. These 3 trees could really cause problems in the future.
Oh boy. I guess you should be happy that a neighbor like that is moving. I'd call the realtor first. In most states, defects in real property have to be disclosed in writing to the buyer. Tell the realtor the seller knows about the problem, and it has to be fixed, soon.
If the realtor doesn't immediately take care of the problem, or if there is no realtor, get out your deed, plat of survey and any other property documents that you have, and look for any mention of the sewer drain or drainage easement. If you're in a subdivision, your town or village hall will have a final plat of the subdivision that shows all easements and elevations. Get a photocopy of your part of the plat. Then send a CERTIFIED (not registered) letter to the old neighbor, with copy to realtor, notifying him that you are holding him and his buyers legally responsible for any damage, present and future, to your property caused by the willows. Be assertive but not nasty. Remember, eventually someone else will own your property and they will expect that the drainage is working properly. If you don't get back the signed, certified card, keep your copy of the letter and call a good local real estate lawyer. Be sure you find a lawyer who specializes in local real estate. Good luck, and remember, after 20 years, you might lose any rights you have to fix this problem. It's called adverse possession of your property. Don't wait for your new neighbors to move in. Do this now. I am not usually one to tell people what to do, but it's obvious that if you wait, the trees will only get bigger and your problem will only get more expensive. I know, it's sometimes lousy having to deal with neighbors, but the truth is, it's your responsibility to protect your property.
I am adding this feedback in order to clear up any confusion there may be with my request. My concern is that several people having finished basements and all of us have septic tanks. With all three of these trees growing so close to the main drainage line, I am worried that they will eventually clog the line and cause all of the septic tanks to back-up. The water damage would probably ruin many of the basements. I also read an article on this site that said that Willow Trees are not good for residential neighborhoods and should not be planted less than 40 feet apart. All three of these trees are only about 20 feet apart.
www.southeastwater.com.au/sewl/upload/document/treeroots.pdf and www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/info_tiledrains.htm provide detailed information on the harmful effects of willows (and other water-hungry trees). The second link lists alternatives (trees which don't require as much water).
As to your willows, Eric? www.ipm.iastate.edu/
What wonderful advice. Yes, in the sales contract, there should be something called, "Seller's Disclosure
Statement" which, in our state of TX, can bring a prison term if not immediately handled to "cure" the
problem, even if the trees have to be destroyed. However, the EPA also requires in many cases that
before a tree is cut down, an Environmental Study
be done by them...(ching, ching $$). Do NOT wait
to tell the broker and seller, in writing, not e-mail, that they have 30 days to comply and correct the issue.
When you notify them by US mail, do so with a Return Receipt Request on Certified Mailso that you can attach your signed request to a copy of what you sent to them for your files, proving your awareness and request for their remedy by the date
you have stated in the letter.
I would call the State Real Estate Commission to learn of your state's laws concerning such matters, because there is likely a R.E. Grievance Committee that may need to get involved if the Realtor refuses or indicates you must be mistaken.Keep VERY good records, names, dates, comments, info., etc., should the matter get worse before it's resolved.
Also, in the meantime, each of you property owners can begin to regularly add to your septic tank lines, Rid-X for Tree Roots, using the maximum amount indicated and as frequently as possible to buy yourselves some time before the roots fill all lines, including the lateral lines to the Tank.
Willows love water, so HOPEFULLY the fact that they are in the lower part of the property's water drainage from the rains/run-off you get, it will be sufficient and they will not look for your lines so voraciously, if they haven't already. If they've grown into lush foliaged trees, I'd be very suspicious. If scraggly, it might be only the tree variety rather than lack of nutrients from the sewer. Try to take a branch/picture to your local garden center or agricultural extension center for identification.
When you have your tanks cleaned out, have the service men to look for any signs of tree roots in the lines, and you need to look into the tank after it is drained, before the lid's back on, as well.
If you have no backup/clogging of sewage, you are very lucky, indeed, in my opinion. I used to be a Commercial R.E. Broker/Realtor many years ago, selling urban/ rural land with occasional homes on the properties. This is what I would do if it were my personal home/problem, as well.
As you may already know, the enzymes(?) in the Rid-X literally EAT whatever is in the lines and tank, but MUST be used as directed. I believe I remember their being Copper Sulphate in it, as well, I believe?
Ask your garden center Master Gardener about that as well, or perhaps Ellen on this site can tell you?
It's not exactly cheap, but not to be ignored, right?
I lived in Houston, TX, for several years long ago, where Willow Trees are common. The River Willows are more wild looking, and drink more water than the ones that drape evenly, and are used in landscapes, I understand. I had roots and used the Rid-X weekly for three years until we moved. It worked well.
The trees are short lived, however, living about ten years and subject to termites, borers, and other pests, so it could be that since they have grown fast, they will be eaten away before they die naturally or have to be destroyed? Should you be given permission and have any input about the removal,
request that the cut trees' stumps be ground out as well, to prevent/retard saplings from appearing as offshoots from the remaining root system, OR that
the root killing chemical be applied for the same reason. Normally, a contractor is allowed to do a job
agreed upon, without interruption from outsiders, but
if it were me, I'd mention it in the letter or any communication/response from previous owners/Realtor, as a record of request, otherwise, there might be a repeat of the problem in years to come with no further recourse that far away past the Statute of Limitations. However, in some cases, there is NO Statute of Limitations regarding damages
caused from a lack of Disclosure upon Sale from the
I would not panic, but I would definitely pursue professional opinions and the help from both the broker involved with the previous owner's Contract of Sale, the city/town environmental agency, the previous owner, and the State re laws that govern all of this. God keep you strong and give you wisdom through all of this dilemma. : )
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