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The Strange (and Frustrating) Reason We're Keeping a Dead Tree on Our Property

May 17, 2020 by Maurie Backman

It's no secret that dead trees are unsightly, but in some cases, they can also be hazardous. Dead trees often don't have the strength to withstand harsh weather conditions. During heavy rain or wind storms, they can fall over and damage nearby property.

These are concerns that my husband and I have with regard to a dead tree in our backyard. Admittedly, we're not all that worried about damage to our home, since the tree points away from it. What concerns us more is the idea of that tree falling and crashing through our neighbor's fence. Yet we haven't taken down that tree for one good reason: Our township has told us we’re not allowed to.

The challenges of buying property on a conservation easement

When my husband and I first signed on to build our new-construction home, we didn't realize that a portion of our backyard had been designated a conservation easement. This was our fault. We should've done our due diligence and insisted on a property survey we could examine, but we were eager to buy our home, and once we realized we had an easement, we figured we'd just deal with it later -- whatever it meant.

Well, it turns out having a conservation easement is very restrictive. Not only are you not allowed to put up any structures in that easement, but you're generally not allowed to remove vegetation from it unless it poses a direct hazard. As such, we knew that we wouldn't be allowed to put up a shed in our easement, but in speaking to our township, we were under the impression that we could take down dead trees located in that area. And a few years ago, that's what we did.

The problem? The township found out and changed its tune. We were told we were not, in fact, permitted to remove those trees and were given a "fine" that involved having to plant live trees of a certain height in their place, which cost us a lot of money. Needless to say, we weren't happy, but because we'd only had a verbal conversation about removing those dead trees, we technically didn't have a means of fighting back.

But we're not about to make the same mistake again, and so for now, the dead tree in our backyard will continue to take up residence there, even though we'd remove it if we felt we could do so without repercussion.

The takeaway? Know what you're signing up for when you buy property, and read up on terms you don't recognize or understand before signing a contract. Having a conservation easement has limited what we can and cannot do with our outdoor space, and while we've mostly been able to work around it, the fact that we're stuck with a dead tree we've been told we can't remove is frustrating on so many levels.

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