Massachusetts law about neighbors and trees

Laws, cases and web sources on the law of neighbors and trees.

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Massachusetts laws


MGL c.49 Full list of Massachusetts law covering fences, including construction, maintenance, arbitration, and remedies. Also includes laws on special fences such as fences on common land, water fences, and animal fences. Also see:

  • MGL c.49, § 2 Definition of fences
    Fences four feet high, in good repair, constructed of rails, timber, boards, iron or stone, and brooks, rivers, ponds, creeks, ditches and hedges, or other things which the fence viewers consider equivalent thereto, shall be deemed legal and sufficient fences.
  • MGL c.49, § 4 Failure to maintain partition fence; proceedings by adjoining occupant
    If a person refuses or neglects to repair or rebuild the part of a partition fence which under this chapter he is required to maintain, any person aggrieved may complain to the city or town, and if no action is taken by the offender after being directed to do so by the municipality, the aggrieved person may repair or rebuild both parts of the fence.
  • MGL c.49, § 21 Fences deemed a private nuisance; right of action
    A fence or other structure in the nature of a fence which unnecessarily exceeds six feet in height and is maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owners or occupants of adjoining property shall be deemed a private nuisance.


MGL c.90, § 7U Motorcycles; maximum sound levels

MGL c.90, § 16 Offensive or illegal operation of motor vehicles
No person shall operate a motor vehicle upon any way, public or private, unless such motor vehicle is equipped with a muffler to prevent excessive or unnecessary noise.

310 CMR 7.10 Noise
No person owning, leasing, or controlling a source of sound shall permit unnecessary emissions from said source of sound that may cause noise. This includes, but is not limited to, prolonged unattended sounding of burglar alarms, and construction and demolition equipment. This regulation applies to equipment such as lawn mowers and power saws except between the hours of 7:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M.


MGL c.87, § 1 Public shade trees; definition
All trees within the public way or in the boundaries thereof…shall be public shade trees… [If] it is doubtful whether the tree is within the highway, it shall be taken to be within the highway and to be public property until the contrary is shown.

MGL c.87, § 3 Cutting of public shade trees
Except as provided by section five, public shade trees shall not be cut, trimmed or removed, in whole or in part, by any person other than the tree warden or his deputy, even if he be the owner of the fee in the land on which such tree is situated, except upon a permit in writing from said tree warden…

MGL c.87, § 11 Injury to trees of another person
Provides for "imprisonment for not more than six months or... a fine of not more than five hundred dollars."

MGL c.242, § 7 Willful trespass to trees, etc.; damages
Violators are "liable to the owner in tort for three times the amount of the damages assessed therefor."

MGL c.266, § 113 Timber, wood and shrubs; willful cutting and destruction on land of another
This is a crime against property. It also covers carrying away wood, as well as nuts, berries, and fruit. The offender may be punished by a fine or imprisonment.

Other authorities (common law)

Restatement of the law, Second, Torts 2d, §197: Private necessity.  “One is privileged to enter or remain on land in the possession of another if it is or reasonably appears to be necessary to prevent serious harm to…the actor, or his land or chattels…”  (Comment: “The privilege …exists only…in an emergency…Furthermore, the privilege must be exercised at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner.”) Available for no charge from our Document Delivery Service.

Municipal by-laws or ordinances about lawns

Do you have to mow your lawn?

The answer may be yes depending on what town you live in. For example, the City of Springfield has the following ordinance against overgrowth:

The Good Neighbor Handbook: Overgrowth Property must be kept free of grass, grass clippings, weeds, leaves, branches, or yard waste more than six inches high. (Springfield Ordinances §§ 327-1 and 327-13)

To see if your town has a similar ordinance or bylaw, please look at the Massachusetts city and town ordinances and by-laws.


No trespass notice, Leicester Police Dept.
A form that can be filled out and used to formally notify trespassers that they "may be arrested without warrant" for entering or remaining on a property.

Notice of no trespass, Falmouth Police Dept.
Another form that can be filled out and served on individuals with additional information on how to serve the notice.

Selected cases

Web sources

Filing environmental complaints, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection.
Explains where to file complaints for a number of environmental disturbances including smoke or noise.

Frequently asked questions about tree law in Massachusetts
Q&A for a blog written by an attorney with different scenarios involving neighbors and their trees. This blog also gives examples for the scenarios so you can apply the one that fits your situation the best. 

Handbook on fence viewers and laws on fences in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by Larson and Cramer, 2004.
"This handbook is intended to serve as an informal guide to the laws that pertain to Fence Viewers and fencing in general in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

If a tree falls in a storm, who pays?, Lawley Insurance.
Generally speaking, if your property is damaged, you are responsible for the damages. It doesn’t matter if the tree or limb came from your property, your neighbor’s property or even municipal property.

Massachusetts fallen tree law, Mass. Real Estate Blog.
Explains who is responsible for a tree that falls on a neighbor's yard. "[L]egally speaking, your neighbor is not liable for a healthy tree falling down during a major storm event....On the other hand, if the neighbor’s tree was diseased or decayed, was known to be at risk of falling and the neighbor ignored it, there could be negligence and liability. Either way, if you have homeowner’s insurance, the insurance companies will sort out fault and blame."

Massachusetts laws on property disputes between neighbors,
"A breakdown of Massachusetts laws on neighbor disputes involving trees, fences, and the right to farm."

Neighbor disputes over water damage,
Not specific to Massachusetts, this site outlines the general standards of responsibility for water issues.

Neighbors and fruit trees,
Who gets to pick the fruit—including off the ground, over the property line?

When can a Landowner be Liable for a fallen tree?
This article by an attorney tries to answer many questions regarding trees, including: Who is liable when a tree falls onto someone’s property from a neighbor’s property? Would the owner be liable for the losses if it’s an unhealthy tree? What if someone intentionally harms a tree? And much more.

When your neighbor's tree blots out the sun, can you force them to take it down? Not in Massachusetts, National Law Review, February 8, 2019.
Explains the holding in Shiel v. Rowell: If a tree is healthy, a property owner does not have to cut it down or trim it to please a neighbor. If branches or roots cross a property line, the neighbors can cut them themselves.

Print sources

Drone law, Thomson Reuters, Annual, Chapter 34, Invasion of privacy.

"Liability risks in pruning a neighbor's tree", by Bruce Medoff and Philip M. Hirshberg, 24 Mass. Lawyers Weekly 1967 (June 3, 1996)

Neighbor and nuisance law, MCLE, 2009.

Neighbor law : fences, trees, boundaries & noise, by Emily Doskow, Nolo, 2023. (eBook available at link with library card).

Trouble next door: what to do with your neighbor, Oceana, 2007.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about neighbors and trees

Last updated: February 21, 2024

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