Tennessee Man Has to Pay $1.2 Million After Cutting Down His Neighbors’ Trees While They Were on Vacation

By: Lauren Fokas | Last updated: Jun 27, 2024

Michael and Emma had moved to a quiet neighborhood near Nashville, Tennessee. They loved their new home, especially the beautiful oak trees that provided privacy and a connection to nature.

Their serene life took an unexpected turn when their neighbor decided to take matters into his own hands.

Purchasing Their Dream Home

When Michael and Emma bought their new home outside Nashville, Tennesse, they were thrilled that it had a completely unique yard lined with gorgeous, giant oak trees that gave them the privacy they were looking for.

A photograph of a beautiful home surrounded by trees

Source: Freepik

However, the yard also contained several mulberry trees that they were less fond of. They planned to eventually cut down the mulberry trees but first wanted to make sure they got a good price from a reliable tree felling company.

Asking Neighbors for Help

Michael decided to ask a few of his neighbors if they knew any trustworthy companies and started getting quotes for the removal of the mulberry trees. That’s when something serendipitous happened.

A photograph of two neighbors talking over a fence

Source: Freepik

Michael and Emma’s new neighbor reached out and told them that he owned a tree removal company and would be happy to take on the job of cutting down the unwanted mulberry trees for them.

The Neighbor's Secret Motive

While Michael thought the offer was kind and genuine, the neighbor actually had a secret motive.

A young couple sits on the side of their backyard hot tub

Source: Freepik

He had recently spent quite a good deal of money renovating his back porch, adding a pizza oven and jacuzzi to create a kind of backyard oasis. And Michael’s trees created substantial shade where he wanted sun.

Negotiations Were Still in Progress

After the neighbor originally offered his company to remove the trees, Michael and Emma told him to send them an official quote, and they would decide whether or not to use him for the service.

A man is pictured with many $100 bills as he’s seated at his wooden desk

Source: Freepik

However, while waiting for that quote, Michael and Emma went away for a few days. When they returned, they were absolutely shocked to see workers in their yard, cutting down not just the mulberry trees but the oak trees too.

A Horrifying Discovery

Michael found his yard in chaos; his cherished oak trees were being cut down without his permission and he couldn’t understand who was doing this and why.

A man using a chainsaw to cut down trees

Source: Freepik

He quickly realized the workers were from his neighbor’s company, and Michael, furious and helpless, demanded they stop immediately. But sadly, it was too late.


Destruction and Despair

The scene was devastating. The once beautiful yard was littered with fallen trees, trampled grass, and uprooted flower beds.

A close-up of trees seen in Las Vegas in the daytime.

Source: Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

Michael confronted the workers, and they explained that their boss, his neighbor, had told them to cut down all the trees in the yard, including the decades-old oak trees.


Making Matters Even Worse

Of course, Michael and Emma were beside themselves, so they headed into their home to figure out what to do next. There, they found something that was almost as shocking as the ruined yard.

Young couple is stressed as they go over bills at the kitchen table

Source: Freepik

The neighbor had left a $2,000 bill under their door for the tree removal service they never agreed to. But that wasn’t even the end of this torture.


The Police Arrived the Very Next Morning

That night, while Michael and Emma slept, a wild storm hit Nashville and swept the giant felled trees into the road alongside their house.

A tree fallen on a road that is filled with debris after a storm in Texas in 2024.

Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

When they woke up, the police were at their door. They said that because the trees came from Michael and Emma’s yard, they had to pay a fine to the city for their removal from the street.


Michael and Emma Didn't Know What to Do Next

Michael continuously called his neighbor, hoping to understand what happened, but it only went to voicemail. In his frustration, Michael turned to Reddit for advice

A woman types at her laptop at a desk

Source: Christin Hume/Unsplash

He quickly found the “r/treelaw” subreddit thread and realized that his situation was not entirely unique. There was an entire community of people reporting similar scenarios, so Michael decided to add his story, too.


Seeking Justice Online

Michael wrote, “When I returned from vacation last week, I came home to 12 tree stumps, mashed up grass, and a letter telling me to expect a Venmo payment for $2000.”

A faceless man is typing on a laptop

Source: Freepik

Luckily, the community responded immediately. Many Reddit users sympathized with his situation, while others provided valuable insights into his rights. Specifcally, the importance of consulting an arborist to assess the damage.


Michael Contacts an Arborist Right Away

Thanks to the advice, Michael decided that he would first reach out to an arborist, or tree doctor, to find out just how much his illegally felled trees were worth.

Several pine trees in a forest

Source: master1305/ Freepik

All trees have a fiscal value which changes depending on the type of tree, as well as its size and age. So Michael wasn’t sure if his trees were worth just a few hundred or several thousand dollars.


The Arborist's Evaluation

An arborist’s assessment revealed the true value of the destroyed trees. Because they were large, old oaks, they were worth even more than Michael and Emma had expected.

A police detective is pictured writing down notes in a small notepad

Source: Freepik

Once again, thanks to the advice on Reddit, Michael and Emma contacted a lawyer who specialized in tree law or “arboreal arbitration.” These lawyers understand the value of trees and specifically work on private property destruction disputes.


The Legal Battle Begins

With the arborist’s valuation of the trees in hand and the assistance of the tree law lawyer, Michael and Emma estimated that their neighbor owes them a whopping $1.2 million.

A judge is pictured in their long black robes while holding a gavel in her right hand

Source: Freepik

While that may seem like a lot of money, it included the costs of the destroyed trees, legal fees, and the city council’s cleanup bill for the road obstructed by the fallen trees.


The Judge Ruled Against the Neighbor

After hearing both sides of the case, the judge in Tennessee ruled in Michael and Emma’s favor and sentenced their neighbor to pay the entire $1.2 million fine they had requested.

Several US $100 bills on a judge’s gavel

Source: Adobe Stock

Like most Americans, the neighbor didn’t have over a million dollars just lying around. His egregious and illegal mistake of cutting down Michael’s trees without permission lost him everything.


The Neighbor's Downfall

The neighbor’s tree felling business went bankrupt after the lawsuit, and in order to pay the fine, he was forced to sell his home and move to a more affordable neighborhood.

Close-up of a lawsuit document with a gavel placed on top, on a wooden desk with a pen lying beside the paper

Source: wirestock/freepik

While this may seem harsh, it certainly is an important lesson for everyone and anyone: You absolutely cannot cut down trees on another person’s property without their permission, otherwise, you will pay the consequences.


Community Support

Another interesting aspect of this story is the widespread support and advice from the online Reddit community. In truth, Michael couldn’t have won his case without them.

A close-up of the Reddit app on a phone screen.

Source: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

People empathized with his situation and shared similar stories, but it was their advice that led Michael and Emma first to an arborist and then to a lawyer who specialized in tree law.


Lessons Learned

There’s no doubt that neither Michael nor his neighbor will ever forget this tragic tale, but it’s also important that anyone who reads it learns it.

A close-up of a small Lady Justice statue

Source: Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

This incident highlights the importance of understanding property and tree laws on both sides of the fence. For those on the receiving end, the biggest lesson is that consulting experts and seeking legal advice can make a significant difference when dealing with disputes.


A Sweet Victory for Michael and Emma

Michael updated his Reddit followers, expressing gratitude for their support. He shared the good news that they would be replanting all 12 oak trees at no cost to themselves.

A tree in a plant pot ready to be planted in a field

Source: George Bakos/Unsplash

The ordeal was a tough lesson, but it ended on a positive note with a restored yard and a stronger community bond.


Michael and Emma's Case Is Not Unique

The Reddit subthread proves that disputes between neighbors regarding trees and tree removal are extremely common. However, most situations don’t end in a $1 million fine.

A photograph of a tree stump surrounded by cut down trees

Source: Freepik

But some do; in fact, one man from New Jersey was forced to pay $1 million for cutting down hundreds of trees on his neighbor’s property.


New Jersey Man Forced to Pay $1 Million After Felling Over 200 Trees

In 2011, Jay Patel of Mahwah, New Jersey, faced similar consequences after cutting down 221 trees on his neighbor’s property to improve his view of the nearby Rampapo Mountains.

A photograph of the Rampura Mountains in New Jersey, USA

Source: Fickr

The property owners, the Cantows, were absolutely shocked by the damage, and like Michael and Emma, immediately reached out to an arborist to assess the value of the damage.


Taking the Case to Court

When the Cantows realized that nearly $1 million worth of trees had been cut down, they took their case to court. There, Patel and his lawyers argued that it wasn’t actually Patel’s fault but that of the company because they cut down more trees than he requested.

A judge's gavel rests on its sounding block on a wooden surface, with a person in the background


Patel also claimed that they only removed 54 trees on the Cantows’ property, as the rest were actually behind his boundary line.


The Court Sided With the Cantows

Once again, the court sided with the property owners, the Cantows, who had lost nearly $1 million worth of trees due to Patel’s mistake.

Pile of US $100 bills with a blue bow on top

Source: Freepik

But unlike Michael’s neighbor, Patel actually had $1 million to pay the fine as he was a multi-millionaire who owned several Dunkin Donuts franchises.


This Story Is an Important Lesson for Everyone

Even though he had $1 million to pay the fine, no one wants to find themselves in a situation like this one.

A photograph of a tree stump with an ax stuck in it

Source: Freepik

Therefore, it’s crucial to understand that if you cut down any trees on someone else’s property, you will pay the consequences, and they will likely be very expensive.