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Can you face criminal charges for cutting down a tree on your property in Maryland?

Cutting TreeIf you live on the water, or within 1000 feet of tidal water in Maryland, you had better be aware of restrictions imposed within this Cheasapeake Bay Critical Area. For instance, if you cut that tree down on your property to get a better view of the water, you could face both civil and criminal charges. Yes, that wasn’t a typo...criminal charges.

A homeowner was recently sued by the State for cutting down trees on his waterfront property to get a better view. He was sued simultaneously in both Civil and Criminal Courts.

His fine in Civil Court exceeded $10,000, and he got lucky in Criminal Court with a Probation before Judgement. He is also required to get permits for the work he already did, as well as plant trees and shrubs to replace the missing ones. Along with his legal expenses, this was a very expensive lesson.

Recent State laws now allow for prosecution of offenders in both Civil and Criminal Courts. Anne Arundel County is being particularly aggressive with this stance.
Maryland waterfront homeowners, and any homeowner in the Critical Bay zone, should take heed that any activity involving trees, shrubs and underbrush should be reviewed with the County beforehand.

According to the County website, “Except for routine grass cutting and maintenance of existing garden and landscaped areas, removal of any existing natural vegetation within the Critical Area buffer or protected forests or woodland is subject to prior approval through the Code Compliance Division. Call (410) 222-7441 for information on obtaining a standard Buffer Management Plan or Forest Management Plan.”

Plan to err on the side of caution before making any landscaping changes to your waterfront property...call the County first to see if the work you’re planning on doing is legal.

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 Richard Iarossi is a full time licensed REALTOR®, working in Crofton, MD. My coverage areas are: Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Howard, Calvert, Queen Anne, and Baltimore City and County. I specialize in residential real estate, working with both buyers and sellers. Use the registration free search on my website at www.RichSellsHomes.com. If you’re not already working with a REALTOR®...I can help. Call me at 443-995-9595 (Cell) or 410-451-6255 (Office).

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60 commentsRichard Iarossi • February 02 2012 06:52AM

Comments

This silliness is getting serious.  If we are considering it "lucky" to get probation for such a thing, we are all screwed.  Can you imagine what any of the Founding Fathers would have had to say in court?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Hmmm...I have a friend who has property on the eastern shore with lots of vegetation leading up to the water. I will definitely pass this information on to him in case he is unaware of this legislation. Seems a little un-American to me!

Posted by Charlie Dresen, Steamboat Springs, CO e-Pro (Steamboat Sotheby's International Realty) over 2 years ago

JAY: That sound you here are our rights being taken away one by one...by the same legislators we hired.

CHARLIE: Better safe than sorry. Check with the County first.

Posted by Richard Iarossi, Crofton MD Real Estate, Annapolis MD Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 2 years ago

They ARE being taken away one by one!  Where is private property these days?  Ain't none!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

 

Great blog and great job. Keep up the good work and good luck to you this year. Thanks again for the info. Awesome job. 

 

Posted by JOSH EVANS *JoshEvansHomes 516-655-5000 (Village Properties of Mineola, LLC) over 2 years ago

In California, if you cut down a Live Oak Tree you are in big trouble--it's a protected species and a permit is required.

Posted by Norma Toering, Palos Verdes Homes in Los Angeles Area (Charlemagne International Properties) over 2 years ago

Shades of Dan Synder.  Didn't he get in a pickle when he cut down a bunch of trees on his waterfront property?

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) over 2 years ago

Norma beat me to it, the same is true in Florida and remember as they say at Six Flags stay out of the Marsh.

Posted by Charles Stallions, 800-309-3414 - Pensacola, Pace or Gulf Breeze, Fl. (Charles Stallions Real Estate Services ) over 2 years ago

The community I live in has restrictions about cutting and pruning so we are aware and live with them. Folks do not understand if you live on a mountain the things that keep the mouontain from sliding into your living room are trees. Nice post

Posted by Charlie Ragonesi, Homes - Big Canoe, Jasper, North Georgia Pros (AllMountainRealty.com) over 2 years ago

That is definitely something you'd want to know before you buy a waterfront home with the idea of improving your view. 

Posted by Eileen Hsu, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 2 years ago

Wow, I didnt know that. What a strong environmentalist group uou have there!

Posted by Loreena Yeo, Realtor® | Frisco TX Community Ambassador (3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Frisco TX Real Estate Co.) over 2 years ago

Same goes for Lake Oconee. Georgia Power rules the coop down here. Have to get permission to do...well, pretty much anything.

Posted by Margie Kopp Sorrell, Lake Oconee Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Lake Oconee Realty and Lake Country) over 2 years ago

Hi Richard. Was there any HOA?  I don't have any knowledge of waterfront properties, but I would of checked on that first..that is a steep penalty, ouch...he should of known it would not of been that easy.

Posted by Cheryl Thomson, REALTOR, Retired (U.S. Army), Real Estate in Northern Virginia (Buyers Advantage Real Estate Corp. (c: 703.216.5635)) over 2 years ago

Sounds like Old Town Alexandria, too.  In fact, you cannot take down a bedraggled old chain link fence without permission, lest it be considered historic.

Posted by Susan Haughton, REALTOR Alexandria VA Homes for Sale over 2 years ago

that blows my mind that you could be held criminally liable for removing a tree on your own property.  d'oh!

Posted by Alan May, Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate (Coldwell Banker Residential) over 2 years ago

This is very important information for all current and potential waterfront homeowners to have. The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area is addressed in the MAR contract, but as a notification/disclosure and doesn't go into depth. Homeowners need to research specific requirements or they may be paying for it big time.

Posted by Susan Thompson-Solomons, MD Real Estate (The McNelis Group, LLC) over 2 years ago

IN Oregon ( logging country) vs. the tree huggers. The tree huggers win. Its a big NO-NO to cut within 50 feet of a Lake or River.

Posted by Rob D. Shepherd, Principal Broker ABR, GRI (Coldwell Banker Coast) over 2 years ago

I cut a tree on my neighbors side of the yard leaning in to mine but went too far when I did. You can cut the overhang, but no more. I got carried away and cut the more.... ( I am guilty). Got lectured by everyone and to this day, I am told not to touch any trees by my wife...Being arrested for doing this? unfathomable..good one Rich

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar Author PEARLS SERIES of books, on LIFE and LOVE plus Real Estate too! (People first then business! Ran Right Realty Riverside, Ca) over 2 years ago

in florida, there are potential criminal charges and a $25,000 fine for cutting down a Mangrove Tree. 

Posted by James L. Katz (Katz Realty Group) over 2 years ago

Not so fast...though this is certainly in the extreme, we have similar rules here in Austin Texas...brought on by irresponsible developers who have, in the past show little regard for anything but profits and leaving the scene after to avoid being held responsible.

We do need to find a sane and reasonable middle ground, something that is sorely lacking these days...

Posted by Russell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI (Realty Austin, Austin Texas Real Estate) over 2 years ago

The two words that come to mind are "POLICE STATE".  Margie above sited it's that way with Georgia Power around our lake, but that's because THEY (Georgia Power) own the land.  However if you have a fee simple to the water property (and some exist) you can cut ALL your trees.  

This is crazy.

Posted by Tammy Lankford, Your Lake Sinclair Expert (706-485-9668) (Lane Realty) over 2 years ago

Savananh is really a tree city. We have trees all over the place.  I am not sure what the laws are here cutting down trees. I know my HOA we can't do a bloody thing without the ARB giving us permissioin to do so. Which in some ways is good some not so good. But I am all about tress not being cut down.

Posted by Nikki Wright (Mia Madison Properties, LLC. ) over 2 years ago

This is great information that you're sharing with the public Richard. I'll bet prior to reading this there are very few folks who knew the consequences of removing a tree from their own property.

Posted by Craig Rutman, Raleigh, Cary, Apex area Realtor (Helping people in transition) over 2 years ago

HA!  I wasn't gong to mention it.  However, since Cindy Jones brought it up. . . .

I got a bit of free publicity from that event, Wash.Post, some web site links, etc.  I did a CMA for some interested parties.  All Mr. Snyder wanted was a view of the canal and perhaps a peek at the Potomac River. 

SEE 

Lenn Harley, a real estate broker who was not involved in Snyder's purchase
of the estate but is familiar with the Potomac area, estimated that a
relatively unobstructed view of the river could add $500,000 to $1 million
to the home's value. . .  MORE...

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 2 years ago

Hi Richard - that is not surprising, and home owners go to lengths to "improve their view". We had a similar situation here where home owners removed plants at the beach to improve the view. They had to put it back and not sure about fines.

Posted by Sharon Paxson, Newport Beach Real Estate - HOM Sotheby's Int'l Re (HÔM Sotheby's International Realty, BRE License 01501912) over 2 years ago

On my land in Lake Tahoe, I can be fined $15,000 for cutting down a tree over 6 inches wide.  Not sure about going to jail though, since they're all full anyway.

Posted by Andrew Martin (Keller Williams - Danville) over 2 years ago

Richard, that would be a real bummer to have to pay such hefty fines. However, I am happy to see the county is protecting waterfront property.

Posted by Tammie White, TW Realty Group, Franklin TN, South of Nashville (Benchmark Realty, LLC (615) 495-0752 or www.TWRealtyGroup.net) over 2 years ago

Richard,

That's an expensive lesson.

While Saratoga, CA does not have ocean views, we do have trees that cannot be removed without city tree-removal permits which are issued very sparingly and only in extreme cases.

Posted by Lloyd Binen, Silicon Valley R since 1976;408-565-8177 (Certified Realty Services) over 2 years ago

Rich, that's amazing. First thing I did when I bought my house was rip out bushes and trees. I own the place, I can do what I want, kinda?

Posted by Eric Michael, Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519 (Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI) over 2 years ago

We have a couple rivers that flow through Sacramento.  And trees do have some rights in places where levee erosion can create a problem for flood control.  In one transaction I closed last fall, a home was not near a river, but the heritage oaks on the property, had some "rights."  A certain governmental body needed to be approached for a permit to trim or prune the trees.

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 2 years ago

This kinda crap is what drove me from California, Private property my a**

Posted by Gerry Michaels, GettysburgGerry Social Meida (Glasswork Media Arts) over 2 years ago

Richard, congratulations on the feature.  I might very well have missed your blog had it not been a feature.  This is very important information for anyone with trees and anyone considering removing them.  I live in an area with a lot of trees but people are having them cut down because they've been falling down, but we don't live along the water. 

Posted by June Piper-Brandon, Piecing Dreams One Home at a Time (Century 21 New Millenium) over 2 years ago

Richard -- in WA state, depending on the local juristiction, there is a 50-200' protected area around lakes, streams, rivers, and Puget Sound.  On the west side of the state, that doesn't leave a lot of property that is not impacted in some way.  But 1,000'??? WOW!!

Posted by Steven Cook, - Pierce, King, Kitsap, Thurston, Mason Counties (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 2 years ago

That would be a very expensive way to get a nice water view of your property.  I know someone who did that, and knew of the consequences, but thought is worth the cost of the fine.

Posted by Greg Gillespie, CRS TN & MS - Broker (Crye-Leike Realtors) over 2 years ago

Thanks for sharing Richard.  States are experiencing the same economy as the public and will do anything to grow revenue.  Unbelievable.

Posted by Herman Herrera, Your trusted Staten Island Real Estate Expert (HERMAN & CO REAL ESTATE l Staten Island, New York) over 2 years ago

I have lived in neighborhoods were you had to get permission from the HOA and of course there are always people getting in trouble trying to see Lake Washington.  I am having a huge tree cut down in March - its in the back yard.  Across the street from me is a cliff - if I cut some trees down I could see water - do I want to NO!

Posted by JO SOSS, Kitsap County WA Real Estate - HOMEFRONT Realty (HOMEFRONT Realty) over 2 years ago

Richard, in a hundred years from now that generation will look at our laws the same we look at the laws from 100 years ago.  Is there a sliding scale for jail time depending on the size of the tree?

Posted by Glenn Freezman (Family Abstract, Inc.) over 2 years ago

Rich,

I had a personal issue with a tree I removed from my home. 100Ft. of the water. The tree was uplifted in the hurricane and set back in place. Needless to say, it was dieing. I had a Tree company remove and one of my lovely neighbors kept calling the County. The County threatened to charge/fine  me 30K. I then had the certified tree company write a letter certifying that the tree was dieing.

Posted by Monique Hailer (CENTURY 21 New Millennium) over 2 years ago

In defense of the state of Maryland.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Maryland Tree Preservation laws, etc. have STOPPED clear-cutting by builders and developers. 

With the exception of pasture land, new homes are far more likely to have a few natural trees.  In fact, if the lots do not offer some trees, developers must usually "reforest" up to 15% of the acreage.  Often it's in the perimeter, but still. . . .

These laws have also greatly reduced run-off and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  With the exception of pollution from the chicken slaughtering factories, mostly on the Eastern Shore, and farm fertilizer run-off throughout the state, these causes of pollution in the bay have been reduced greatly.

Why not the fertilizer and chicken slaughterhouses??  HA!  This is still Maryland and there are still lobbies and they know where the legislators go to lunch.

 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 2 years ago

Rich, A little research would have prevented this scenario, not to mention so many others where the County drives Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. 

Posted by Wanda Kubat-Nerdin, Your Southern Utah Residential Real Estate Agent (Prado & Kramer Real Estate, St. George, UT 435.632.9374) over 2 years ago

Rich,

In Toronto, it's a by-law infraction, so just a fine and penalties, but no criminal offence.

Brian

Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) over 2 years ago

Richard - I came from the reblog by Lenn. It is really a very expensive lesson. I did not know that it could also carry criminal charges.

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Selling Daytona paradise for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) over 2 years ago

Wow! Criminal charges! I would never thought about it.... Maybe some fine and penalties... that is it.

Thanks for sharing.

Tatyana.

Posted by Tatyana Makarov, Your Greater Hartford Area Realtor (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 2 years ago

Richard:

Wow your state is tough on tree cutters.  I can understand civil penalties, but criminal charges seem excessive.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Gallagher & Lindsey, Alameda, California) over 2 years ago

Reblogged! This is a very good post for Southern Maryland counties, too!

Posted by Cheryl Ritchie, Southern Maryland 301-980-7566 (RE/MAX Leading Edge www.GoldenResults.com) over 2 years ago

Hi Richard, that is some expensive view! Is it some kind of wild life preserve there?                  

Posted by Sandy Acevedo, RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale (951-290-8588) over 2 years ago

We have some laws in Florida that are similar.  It's based on the protection of the rivers and our estuary's.  Most trimming and cutting on one's property can be done, but it needs permitting.  We are still suffering and trying to clean up our waterways because of lax rules from the past.

Posted by Gabe Sanders, Stuart Florida Real Estate (the BlueWater Realty team specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales) over 2 years ago

Virginia is very tough also.  Here's an example... $13,000 fine PLUS $10,000 in required new plantings.

http://www.wydaily.com/local-news/7290-jcc-resident-fined-for-clear-cutting.html

Posted by Susan Krancer, Your Williamsburg Golf Connect (Liz Moore & Associates) over 2 years ago

Thank you, Richard.  This is so important to buyers in your region.  It's a sad fact that buyers (and owners) just don't do their research, which is why they need "experts" like you! 

And thank you, Lenn, for your voice of reason in the midst of all the "outrage" comments.  I'm a huge fan of the Chesapeake Bay region - met it at its worst in the early 80's and watched it get cleaner over the past 30 years thanks to all those rules and regs that everyone is complaining about.  The actions of each individual property owner do have an impact on everyone else when it comes to the watershed.

If it weren't for the actions of those "un-American tree-hugging environmentalists", the oysters, blue crabs, and rockfish would be GONE.

Anyway, every place I lived that had landscaping regs, you had to get a certified arborist to state that the tree was dead or dying or diseased and then it was easy to get whatever permit you needed.  Some places you had to plant a certain amount of replacement shrubs or trees for each one removed for whatever reason.

And here in my neck of the woods, a certain homeowner chopped down a day shape in the water off his seawall to improve his view! As in, a navigation aid that boaters use to discern the channel.  And, it was chopped down to the waterline, so you could barely see where it was at low tide and the underwater pole became a navigation hazard.  I'm pretty sure that one was a federal offense.

Posted by Lisa Avila, Sail Home Suncoast (Future Home Realty) over 2 years ago

Richard:  It's not only on waterfront property that stuff happens to people that decided to 're-shape' their views. My assocation where I live cut down a bunch of healthy trees & the village fined them a whopping $25K plus they have to plant X more trees for each one they cut down.  Not funny. 

There was a story about Mr T in our area if anyone remembers where he decided to cut down trees on his property on the North Shore of IL. Big problems for him - they basically fined him & then ran him out of town. 'Fool'.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg Homes (RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg IL Real Estate - Northwest Suburbs of Chicago) over 2 years ago

It seems there will always be conflicts between individual rights and society rights. It does seem overly restrictive to restrict landscaping decisions on your own property but on the other hand such decisions do impact the view your neighbor have and perhaps even adversely some wildlife.

I for one would oppose an individuals right to store large amounts of explosives on their property or their right to dump their raw sewage in their back yard. It's fairly easy to see how these activities can impact society.

Less apparent is how much damage is done to society when you stick a politically charged sign in your front yard, trim your landscaping to your own tastes or paint your front door some obnoxious color.

The trick seems to be trying to balance restricting individual rights and actual damage to society. In understanding that there will be few if any perfect solutions we should strive for those which we can all find a degree of peace with.

Posted by Marshall Brown, BSEE, CHI (Mid America Inspection Services, LLC) over 2 years ago

Great post, Richard.  Knowing how fragile the Chesapeake Bay has become, I am a big fan of the restrictions.  No fun for homeowners, to be sure, but a sacrifice for the larger community, not to mention the health of our water system. 

Posted by Marcie Sandalow, Bethesda Chevy Chase DC real estate (Marcie Sandalow Evers & Company Real Estate 301.758.4894 ) over 2 years ago

Wow. That's a pretty stiff penalty for cutting down a tree on your own property. What is their reasoning? Is it because of flood concerns and they want the vegetation left in place to stop water?

Posted by Ann Cordes (Towne Adams, Realtors) over 2 years ago

Wow, who would have thought????  To cut down a tree?????

Posted by Debora Nichols, Realtor Anthem,Phoenix,Scottsdale,Glendale,Peoria (Residential Sales, Purchases, Investors, Vacation Homes) over 2 years ago

I see I'm not the only commenter who wanted to start her comment with "Wow!" That's pretty crazy.  I guess that is why it is important to know local laws.  What a bummer. -Kasey

Posted by Kasey & John Boles - Jon Gosche Real Estate, Boise, Meridian, Ada/Canyon/Gem/Boise Counties (Jon Gosche Real Estate, Boise ID) over 2 years ago

In California you can get a ticket for burning wood in your fireplace on the wrong day.  The government is going too far.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) over 2 years ago

@ Lyn, that was Lake Forest (my neck of the woods).

Posted by Alan May, Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate (Coldwell Banker Residential) over 2 years ago

Rich, I think the varying comments here make for interesting reading and Lenn's comments about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and runoff and polution are right on...Marcie makes a good point too...You're damned if you do and damned if you don't...Enjoy your day.

Posted by Ernie Steele, Lebanon, PA Real Estate 717-273-3774 (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty) over 2 years ago

Hi Richard, You sure can!  I spent 28 years in Linthicum and the folks in Crofton may even be more picky.

Posted by Stephanie/Bob The Ruiz/Miller Team, The Ocala Dream Team (Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty) over 2 years ago

Not calling the County before making changes to your property proves it can be very costly. It's always best to play it safe and double check. That's crazy that there wre criminal charges!!

Posted by Sylvie Stuart, Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagstaff, AZ (Keller Williams Check Realty 928-600-2765) over 2 years ago

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