When You See a Tree Coming Down

This category contains a description of what to do when you see a tree coming down.

When You See a Tree Coming Down

What to do when you hear the chain saw next door....

First, act fast.  Even though it may take hours to cut down a tree, a tree can be irreparably damaged within the first hour of cutting.  If you see a tree coming down and you are not sure it has a permit, do the following:

  1. Ask to see the permit.  The tree cutter or the homeowner should be able to produce a current permit.  (Insist on seeing it; do not take their word for it.) If a permit is produced, verify that the permit is current (less than 1 year old) and that it is for the exact tree(s) being cut, with the size(s) and location(s) on the property noted. If you have concerns about why the permit was issued (i.e., the permit says the tree is dead or dying when it looks perfectly healthy to you), ask the city arborist for an explanation.  

  2. Stop work immediately if permit cannot be obtained.  If the owner or tree cutter cannot produce a permit, or the permit produced is expired or does not reflect the cutting that is being done, tell them that all work must stop until a permit is obtained.  If they do not stop, call the police* (911). It is the police’s job to stop the work if there is no valid permit. If you feel it is safe to do so, inform the tree cutter that you have called the police.  (Quite often, they will stop cutting as soon as they hear that the police have been called.) If the police do not respond within ten or fifteen minutes, you may have to call 911 back.  The more urgent you sound; the more likely they are to respond quickly as they do not want a dispute between neighbors to escalate.  

  3. Call the City Arborist.  If a current and valid permit cannot be produced and it's during weekday business hours, call the Arborist Division at 404-330-6874 for trees on private property and the Office of Parks at 404-546-6813 for trees on public property.  If you are not sure what kind of property the tree is on, call both departments.   (If you know the zip code of the private property, you can contact the field arborist inspector responsible for that zip code directly.) If it is after business hours, call the police (911). Provide the arborist the street address where the tree(s) is being removed.  

  4. Take pictures.  Take pictures of everything: the tree from several different angles, the property, the tree cutters, the tree cutters' vehicle(s), etc.   You are allowed to take pictures of anything that is publicly visible from any place that you have legal access to (i.e., street, adjacent yard, etc.)  Try to document the condition of the tree(s) if you believe that a DDH (dead, dying, or hazardous) tree cutting permit was provided in error.  A picture of the tree cutter's truck and company name/sign is also helpful in case you need to prove who was responsible for the tree cutting at a later date. 

What if the tree is already down?  If the tree cutting has already occurred, go ahead and contact the Arborist Division or Office of Parks as referenced in #3 above, and report a potential illegal tree cutting.  A field inspector will be sent out to investigate.

Download and print a copy of the Tree Ordinance Basics (or the entire Tree Protection Ordinance) for your neighbor or the tree cutter to help them understand why what they are doing is illegal. Education is key!

*Make sure the police know that the permit being used must be current (less than 1 year old) and that it must be for this exact tree(s) with its size(s) and location(s) noted on the permit.  You need to make sure that a tree service isn't using a permit for a different tree as some tree cutters will try to do this.  Also, make sure the police officer knows that a permit is good for only one year and is done on a tree-by-tree basis.  Help our police be more knowledgeable about their role in protecting our trees -- some of them just don't know.

 
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