Can I sue? My neighbor's contractor cut down my trees.

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Question:

The contractors building a house next door cut down trees and shrubs on my side of the property line. Can I sue them -- and should I do so in small claims court?

Answer:

Talk is not only cheap, but in this case, it may save you a bundle in time and court costs, not to mention saving your "budding" relationship with your new neighbors.

Best to approach your neighbors about the problem. Present yourself as the reasonable soul you are -- but explain that you would like to be compensated for the money value of the trees and shrubs that were cut down.

Failing that, write a demand letter to the contractor and property owner, asking for compensation to replace the trees. Enclose written estimates from local nurseries for the cost of buying and planting similar trees. Should you need some help in the proper way to phrase the request, Nolo's Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court has samples.

Wait two weeks. If the contractor or the homeowner doesn't make a reasonable offer, then by all means you may sue for compensation. Some states' small claims courts do not allow lawsuits over trees; check with the clerk of your local small claims court. If you do sue, be ready to prove that the contractor really did murder your flora, and the dollar amount of your loss. For more tips on using the small claims or regular court process, see Nolo's Go to Court or Mediate Resource Center.

"Or mediate." That's right -- before you sue, you may try to resolve the problem with the help of a neutral third party. Your local small claims court can refer you to a neighborhood mediation service.

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