Pennsylvania Tree Laws

Below is a primer on the municipal laws regarding trees along property lines and public rights of way in Pennsylvania Municipalities.

Pennsylvanians need to understand their rights and liabilities concerning hazard trees and property line laws. With the rapid infestation of invasive tree pests like the Spotted Lanternfly and Emerald Ash Borer in Pennsylvania, many residents are being forced to ask about dead tree removal laws along property lines and public right-of-ways.

Educate yourself regarding trees on your property, their health and hazards

Whether you are aware of it or not, a significant portion of Pennsylvania trees are currently under attack. The Emerald Ash Borer is a pest from Asia that has taken control of Ash trees in 35 states. It is killing them at such a remarkable rate that virtually none of the 8.7 billion ash trees in North America are expected to survive in the next five years. Cutting down infected trees in ineffective because the borers have a flying range of up to 20 miles. While the ecological threat to our nation’s forests is momentous, the financial impact on property owners residing within urban communities is potentially enormous. Ash trees can be gigantic, and the cost to remove them likewise.

spotted lanternfly on trees in pa

Spotted Lanterflies are easy to spot, no pun intended. Along with their spots and bright red accents, SLFs are planthoppers, which means they fly for short distances, which can look like hopping.

The Spotted Lanternfly is also causing many Pa residents to be concerned about hardwood and property line fruit trees. The SLF is an invasive insect discovered in Berks County of Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and originates from Southeast Asia. Spotted lanternflies are not as selective as EABs regarding the trees they attack. Their preferred host is the “Tree of Heaven” or ailanthus but they are also reported to attack apple, Plum, cherry, peach, apricot, pine trees, even grape vines and hops. The economic impact could be enormous on the regions fruit, beer and wine industries. And because the Spotted Lanternfly lays its eggs on any surface including cars and trailers, a rapid outbreak is expected.

If your Neighbor’s tree along your property line is a hazard

If the hazard tree is along your property line, but is considered to be the neighbor’s tree, notify them immediately and request they remove it. If they refuse to do so, you can hire an arborist to remove the portion of the tree that overhangs your property. You can then require your neighbor to reimburse you for the cost. If all or any portion of a hazard tree falls on your property, and your neighbor was aware of or should have known that it was dangerous, your neighbor is responsible for any damage that you suffered, including your cost of removal.

If your Neighbor’s tree along your property line is not shown to be a hazard

If your neighbor’s tree falls onto your property and is not shown to have been a hazard, the neighbor will not be deemed negligent. Not only must you clean up your neighbor’s healthy but fallen tree, but you have to give your neighbor the opportunity to claim their wood! If your neighbor’s property line tree falls onto your property, call an arborist to inspect the tree and advise if it was defective and if the neighbor should have been aware of its condition.

If the dead or dying tree is on your side of the property line

In this case, it is your responsibility to monitor the health of the property line tree. Take the tree down before it causes harm to your property or your neighbor’s.

If the dead or dying tree is directly on the property line

In this case, you jointly own the tree with your neighbor and you are empowered to both share the cost of the tree’s removal.

If the dead or dying tree is within a public right of way

Even if your town has maintained a tree over the years, don’t expect the municipality to pay for its removal. Although PA municipalities control the use of streets, including trees growing within the street’s limits, the municipality has the right to impose the cost of tree removal on abutting property owners. If your local municipality chooses not to bill you, that is their option. Even if they have done so in the past, don’t expect municipalities to continue to front the bill. In the face of the extraordinary cost of removal and the scope of current and future tree blight numbers, deferment is probable.

To remove any public right of way tree, you’ll need permission from the municipality

It’s essential to remember that local government controls trees in the public right of way and is responsible if they fail to remove a hazard tree after notice. The property owner should notify the municipality of the hazard tree and ask that it be removed. Keep a copy of that notice for future records.

emerald ash borer destruction of pennsylvania tree
Emerald Ash Borer larvae cause destruction under the bark of Pennsylvania Ash Trees.

Schedule to have the hazardous tree taken down immediately

Homeowners experiencing dead or dying trees proximate to buildings, driveways, patios, sidewalks, and streets do not have the luxury of removing that tree at a future date. A dead tree can quickly become brittle and fall from its own weight in as little as 18 months from the point of infection. Ash trees affected by the Emerald Ash Borer will die from the top down. If you suddenly find that your ash tree is largely dead, the probability is that it has been dying for a long time when you didn’t notice. And if the tree is largely dead, you will likely not find an arborist willing to climb the tree to take it down. They will want to do the work safely with the use of a crane, which could significantly increase the cost of the tree’s removal.

Be Preemptive regarding listed host trees

The Penn State Extension has an updated list of reported species and plants these pests prefer. It may be in your best interest to remove any listed trees, especially ash trees or trees of heaven, along any property line or area that could be seen as dangerous.

Find a municipal lawyer near you with Pennsylvania Tree Laws experience

High Swartz municipal attorneys are here to answer your questions regarding trees on property lines, the laws governing them and public right of ways. Contact us here or call 610.275.0700. More information on Tree Law in Pennsylvania can be found at WeConservePA.

 

Child Tax Credit

How can the Child Tax Credit affect your divorce or separation in Pennsylvania?

Most everyone going through a divorce is aware of the one major implication the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has on their divorce – the Child Tax Credit. Read on for tips on how to negotiate it into your settlement.

In divorce settlement agreements signed after December 31, 2018, alimony is no longer tax deductible to the payer or tax includable to the receiving spouse. Little known, however, are the other ways that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can affect your divorce or separation. One of these changes allows many more taxpayers to benefit from the Child Tax Credit.

The Child Tax Credit is a tax credit worth up to $2,000 per qualifying child in 2018 and forward. The credit is one key effective way for divorcing parents to reduce Federal income tax bills. Taxpayers eligible for the credit subtract it from the federal income taxes they would otherwise owe. But only one parent can claim the CTC, if filing separate returns .
For example, if you owe $5,000 in taxes without the CTC, but have two qualifying children, you would only owe $1,000, because the credit would reduce your tax bill by $2,000 for each child.

, but have two qualifying children, you would only owe $1,000, because the credit would reduce your tax bill by $2,000 for each child.

Why wasn’t the Child Tax Credit a more hotly-contested commodity before 2018?

The Child Tax Credit is not a new thing. It predates the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. But though the CTC always existed, the income threshold, prior to the TCJA, was low enough that many couples did not qualify. The TCJA has increased the adjusted gross income level threshold to$200,000 for single filers and $400,000 for joint filers. By contrast, in 2017 the phase-out level was $75,000 for single filers and $110,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also increased the credit from $1,000 per qualifying child to $2,000 per qualifying child. The CTC is also refundable up to $1,400 which means if you qualify for the CTC and it brings your tax liability (how much you owe) below zero, the IRS will still send you the remaining amount of the credit, up to $1,400. In summary, you want the right to claim the child tax credit on your tax returns for 2018 and thereafter.

Below are a few tips and strategies you should be aware of when negotiating the child tax credit as part of your divorce or support settlement in Pennsylvania.

The child has to be under the age of 17 to qualify. Don’t bargain away some other concession to hold on to the Child Tax Credit for a child older than 17.

Remember that for single filers (as opposed to joint filers) the phase our begins at $200,000. If your gross income is above $270,000 you lose eligibility for the Child Tax Credit entirely. In the event that you do not qualify for the CTC because of your income, agreeing to allow the other party to claim the CTC may be a gesture of goodwill of little consequence to your bottom line.

Beware of the sunset. Remember, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act sunsets in 2025. Therefore if you are getting divorced and you have children who will not be over the age of 17 in 2025, your settlement agreement should contemplate what happens if and when the TCJA sunsets. The goal is to cover all scenarios, so you are not forced to go back to Court in 2025 to resolve the issue.

You still need to claim the child as your “dependent” on your federal tax return. This is particularly important because the TCJA eliminated the tax benefits related to a dependency exemption. Therefore, the agreement or court order should give you the exclusive right to claim the child(ren) as your “dependents.” This almost means that you cannot file “single.”

The parties can share the benefit by rotating or splitting multiple children. By way of example, in a two-child family, the court order or agreement can provide language stating that Mother will always claim “Bobby” as her dependent for the purposes of the Child Tax Credit, and Father will always claim “Suzie”. In one-child families, the agreement can read that Father will claim the child in odd numbered tax years and Mother will claim the child in even-numbered tax years.

The Child Tax Credit may be transferrable. The Child Tax Credit has a residency qualification, in that the otherwise qualifying child must have lived with you for more than half of the year. In Pennsylvania Custody world, this means that the person claiming the child must have primary or at least shared physical custody. However, the IRS does permit the custodial parent to transfer the CTC to the noncustodial parent by filling out and submitted Form 8332. Click HERE to get a copy of Form 8332.

to the noncustodial parent by filling out and submitted Form 8332. Click HERE to get a copy of Form 8332.

For more information, see Publication 972, Child Tax Credit, available at IRS.gov

If you have questions regarding the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or the Child Tax Credit, please contact our office at 610-275-0700 or info@highswartz.com. High Swartz family law attorneys have a thorough understanding how this law could affect your family.