What Do You Mean, I Can’t Move Dirt and Trees On My Own Property?

When I first saw the recent story headlined “An Uprooted Oak Tree Cost California Couple $600k” (that’s from the New York Post), I intended to ignore it. The stories with headlines like that never turn out to illustrate the point that the headline makes them appear to illustrate. Isn’t that just the way things are nowadays?

NB Hannah

Nathan B. Hannah, attorney

After I saw links to the story in a few different places, however, I decided to take a look at it. When I found out that more than one news outlet has reported it, I changed my thinking about it. Now that I have read the story, I think the situation actually does illustrate a point, but probably not the one that the headline writers wanted you to think that it does.

The situation involved what’s known as a conservation easement. An easement is a right that a property owner can give to someone else to do something on the owner’s property. Sometimes an easement will restrict what the property owner can do on the property. A conservation easement limits the ways in which a property owner can use or alter his property. Conservation easements are sometimes used when someone is selling a property and doesn’t want the buyer, or any succeeding owners, to develop the property. If you buy a property that is subject to a conservation easement, you will have notice of it, because the easement will be shown in the title report.

With that background, the story is really pretty simple. The conservation easement apparently restricted the extent to which the property owners could excavate or remove vegetation. The property owners did excavation and removed vegetation on their property anyway. The party who has the benefit of the conservation easement (probably a neighboring owner), took legal action against the property owners for violating the conservation easement. The court awarded damages against the property owners for violating the conservation easement.

I don’t know why the damages were so high, but I just chalk that up to the fact that it happened in an area of sky-high land values.

If you want to be able to do on your property the kinds of things that the owners in that story did, don’t buy property that is subject to a conservation easement. It’s really that simple

Nathan B. Hannah is a Shareholder in the Tucson office, and practices in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, and commercial transactions.  He is also a noted blogger, and you can find more of his articles on his private blog,

Contact Attorney Hannah:  or  520/ 322-5000

This communication is designed to bring legal developments of interest to the attention of our clients and others. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice in a particular matter. For further information on any of the subjects discussed, or for legal advice in connection with any particular matter, please contact us.