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Bellerose tree sparks fight between neighbors

A crack is visible in Mahendra Shah's back patio, which he says is caused by his neighbor's tree's roots. Photo by Karen Frantz
TimesLedger Newspapers

A stately, 100-year-old Black Locust tree has sparked a war between two neighbors in Bellerose, with one man claiming the tree’s roots damaged his property and one woman worried that clearing the roots would cause the massive tree to topple over.

The neighbors both agree the spat began with a conversation across their shared backyard fence this summer. During the conversation, Mahendra Shah, who lives on 250th Street, asked Carolina Florica, who lives on 249th Street, where the tree is located, if she would remove some of the large, shallow tree roots growing onto his property.

After that point, however, they seem to agree on almost nothing.

“I just want her to take care of it, that’s all,” Shah said.

Shah said he wants the tree roots gone because he believes they caused a large crack in the wall of his stand-alone, single-car garage and in the stones of his back patio.

He also said he is considering building a shed in the backyard, but cannot move forward with the plan unless the roots are scaled back.

But Florica disputes Shah’s allegation that the tree is the cause of the garage’s crack and says she should not be responsible for cutting the tree roots, saying the tree was there long before she or her neighbor were.

“It’s almost not my tree,” she said. “It’s in my backyard, but it’s nature’s tree.”

Florica called a New York-certified home inspector with Garber Home Inspections and an urban ecologist with Worldwide Ecology, Dr. Steven D. Garber, to inspect the tree and Shah’s garage this summer. According to an affidavit Garber gave to Florica’s attorney, the garage’s damage was not due to the tree but rather to freezing and thawing water from the roof, which Garber said does not have a gutter and is poorly maintained.

In addition, the affidavit warns cutting away portions of the tree’s root system could be dangerous, making it more susceptible to health issues “that could weaken the tree, cause death of parts of the tree and make it more likely to lose branches [or] fall in a storm.”

“I am scared to touch this tree that is so huge,” Florica said, saying she is terrified if Shah takes the matter into his own hands, the tree — 36 inches in diameter and more than 50 feet tall — will come crashing down on her house or her neighbors’ houses.

As of right now, the neighbors remain in a standoff, with Shah still demanding Florica pay to remove the roots or cut the tree down entirely and Florica saying she is prepared to take him to court over the matter.

Although Shah said he has the right to cut away the roots himself, he said he is not sure what his next step will be.

The possibility that cutting away the roots could weaken the tree did not seem to concern him, however. When asked if he was worried about the tree falling down, he responded, “Wouldn’t that be her problem? It’s her tree.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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Reader Feedback

Mrs P from LIC says:
the city has a free Dispute Mediation program; call 311
Oct. 14, 2012, 6:46 am
anna russo from little neck says:
I read this article last week. There some comments from readers as I recall. Were they deleted by the Editor? I was interested in readers' reaction to the situation.
Oct. 16, 2012, 1:36 pm
Rob Anthony says:
Whether or not the tree roots caused the garage damage is a moot point. The neighbor has the right to remove anything from the tree that crosses the plane of the property line including any limbs above ground that may be shading out grass, etc, as long as he places the removed pieces back on the owners property. It is very unlikely that the removal of surface roots from a tree this old would weaken the anchorage of the tree, that is being done by the root system well below ground, but it's still a legal question and the town may have certain laws in place to cover this situation. Btw, her assertion that it is 'natures tree', will never fly in court, it's her tree on her property!
Oct. 20, 2012, 1:30 pm
CW Glaeser says:
It is troubling that Ms Florica neglected to mention to the reporter that she hired a Consulting Arborist months ago to examine and report on the tree versus infrastructure problem as noted here. And that an fully affirmation of the tree root - garage foundation damage could only be made by the use of a pneumatic diagnostic tool know as the Airpsade- that would remove the soils and expose the tree roots so as to identify the conflict. Therein a consensus could be made whether root pruning would be necessary and the extent of root pruning.
Of the entire root system of this tree that covers a potential 5000 square foot of landscape area across neighboring yards, the removal of a few minor tree roots that are impacting the neighboring garage is a minor impact. Yes indeed the garage owner has the right to do whatever he feels fit on his property. Apparently Ms Florica does not wish to spend or share the cost for the Airspading diagnostics and root pruning that would have fully resolved this issue by now. And so both parties are STUCK despite even conflict mediation. The Locust is not the problem here but stubborn property owners.

Post Script. The urban ecologist S Garber a non-certified arborist had no right to pose as a tree expert and submit a fee-based affadavit to an attorney on an arboricultural issue by which he has no credentials or experience.
Oct. 20, 2012, 5:28 pm

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