Can Florida Homeowners be Fined for Cutting Trees Without a Permit?

January 18, 2024

Can Florida Homeowners be Fined for Cutting Trees Without a Permit?

Florida homeowners often find themselves in a situation where they need to remove a tree from their property. While this seems like a straightforward task, the legalities surrounding tree removal in Florida can be quite complex, especially regarding permits and the risk of incurring fines.

The Evolution of Florida’s Tree Law

In 2019, Florida passed a pivotal law, Chapter 2019-155, which significantly impacted the state’s tree removal policies. Previously, local government laws provided certain protections for trees, typically requiring permits for the removal of trees above certain sizes. However, the 2019 legislation allowed these local laws and ordinances to be bypassed if certified arborists or landscape architects deemed the trees a source of “danger.” This law initially aimed to give property owners more discretion but led to legal disputes due to the ambiguous interpretation of “danger”​​.

From “Danger” to “Risk”

To bring clarity and reduce legal ambiguity, Florida’s arboricultural professionals and lawmakers collaborated to shift the language from “danger” to “risk.” This change was crucial as “risk” is more tangible and grounded in probability and international standards. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) developed a program to provide arborists with tools to objectively determine tree risk and report their findings. This system, known as the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification or TRAQ, assesses trees based on “risk features” like mechanical defects and potential impact on “targets” like people or property​​.

Legislative Updates and Implications for Homeowners

The updated legislation stipulates that a tree poses an unacceptable risk if its removal is the only way to mitigate its risk below moderate levels. This update, which took effect on July 1, 2022, is seen as a victory for tree care professionals, ensuring impartiality and ethical integrity in tree removal disputes. The law is now grounded in contemporary scientific understandings of tree care and risk management​​.

Implications for Florida Homeowners

Florida homeowners should understand that, although the state typically doesn’t demand a permit for tree removal on private property, they must approach tree removal with caution. It’s essential to engage certified arborists to evaluate the tree’s risk level. If an arborist classifies a tree as posing an unacceptable risk and recommends removal to reduce this risk, homeowners can confidently proceed without worrying about fines. Conversely, removing a tree that fails to meet these risk criteria without a professional assessment could lead to legal repercussions. This underscores the importance of a thorough risk evaluation before deciding to remove any tree.

In conclusion, Florida homeowners looking to remove trees should be mindful of the state’s updated tree laws. Consulting with professionals and understanding the risk assessment process can help ensure compliance with the law and avoid any potential fines or legal issues.

Frequently Asked Questions About Florida Tree Law

Do I need a permit to remove a tree from my property in Florida? In general, Florida does not require homeowners to obtain a permit for tree removal on private property. However, it’s important to consult with a certified arborist to assess the risk posed by the tree. If a tree is deemed to pose an unacceptable risk, it can be removed without a permit.

What changed with Florida’s tree law in 2019? In 2019, Florida passed a law (Chapter 2019-155) that allowed homeowners to bypass local government ordinances on tree removal if a certified arborist or landscape architect deemed the tree a source of “danger.” This law shifted the focus from “danger” to “risk,” making the assessment more objective and grounded in probability and international standards.

How is tree risk assessed under the new Florida tree law? Tree risk is assessed using the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) developed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). This assessment focuses on “risk features” of trees, like mechanical defects, and their potential impact on nearby targets. A tree is considered a risk if its removal is the only way to mitigate its risk below moderate levels.

What are the consequences of removing a tree without a proper risk assessment in Florida? If a Florida homeowner removes a tree without a proper risk assessment and the tree does not meet the criteria of posing an unacceptable risk, the homeowner could face legal consequences. Therefore, it’s essential to have a tree professionally assessed for risk before deciding to remove it to avoid potential fines or legal issues.

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