Tree Cases:NYS RPAPL 861–Unlawful Removal of Timber

What should you do if someone cuts down your trees? Call John Ventosa!

John Ventosa recently recovered $60,000 for a Dutchess County family who had several of their trees cut down by a neighbor. John was able to settle the claim without even filing a lawsuit by hiring an expert arborist to come to the scene and create a detailed, investigative report, which included estimates for the reasonable replacement value of the trees.

RPAPL § 861

New York State Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, abbreviated as “RPAPL,” is the body of New York State law that governs legal actions involving anything related to “real property” – i.e. land and real estate.

RPAPL § 861 specifically governs the unlawful removal of timber and provides for a private cause of action (or “grounds for a lawsuit”) against any person or entity that cuts down or damages trees on another’s property. Specifically, the statute allows for the following damages to be collected from the offending party:

  1. Treble the stumpage value of the trees or timber;
  2. $250 per tree; and
  3. an amount for any permanent and substantial damage caused to the land or improvements thereon as a result of such violation.

“Treble the stumpage value” means three times the “current fair market value of a tree as it stands prior to the time of sale, cutting, or removal.” Depending on the type of tree at issue, three times the stumpage value can be a substantial damage calculation.

The final category provides for a calculation of damages that are caused to the land or any improvements (typically a house or other type of fixture) as a result of the trees having been removed.

What about the reasonable replacement value of the trees themselves? Can you recover treble damages? The answer is a cliché for lawyers: it depends. There seems to be a split among the various trial and appellate courts in New York about whether “reasonable replacement value” is included in “stumpage value,” and therefore subject to potential treble damages. The specific facts of your case, including the county in which it is filed, will have a substantial impact on the amount of money that you may be able to recover in legal action under NY RPAPL § 861.

Regardless of which calculation of damages you include in your claim, most cases will require the hiring of a qualified Arborist to act as an Expert Witness. An Arborist hired by your attorney will visit the scene, prepare a report based upon the evidence, and calculate the damages. These reports are crucial in the resolution of a claim under NY RPAPL § 861. It’s important to retain a lawyer who will hire the correct expert in your case.

If someone has unlawfully cut down or damaged your trees, call John Ventosa today!

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