Florida is home to some of the most
beautiful trees in the world and is known for its oak canopies and palm tree
groves that give our cities and neighborhoods their unique look and feel. Under H.B. 1159, or “Private Property
Rights,” which went into effect on July 1, 2019, limitations have been placed
on the ability of cities and municipalities to require a permit in order for a
homeowner to prune, trim, or remove a tree from his or her property that may
pose a danger. The new law also prevents
local governments from requiring a property owner to replant a tree that was
pruned, trimmed, or removed.
Under the law, a property owner does not need a permit to prune, trim, or remove a tree if the property owner obtains an opinion from an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or a Florida licensed landscape architect that the tree presents a danger to persons or property. Critics of the new law say that it has a high potential for abuse due to several loopholes. Landscape architects licensed in Florida are not required to have any specialized training in assessing tree danger. Arborists may take a course focused on “Tree Risk Assessment,” but are not required to complete this extra training under the new law. If the opinion is obtained by an ISA-certified arborist, the law does not require that the arborist live in Florida or visit the site in person. This raises concerns that some arborists may create businesses to take advantage of the new law and issue opinions inappropriately. Further, there is no requirement under the law that the homeowner display, retain, or disclose documentation to local governments.
So what can be done to safeguard the trees in your neighborhood? If you live in a community governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA), the HOA may impose an approval process and requirements for the removal of trees by homeowners. We recommend that HOAs review their Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions to determine whether it contains provisions regarding tree removal and HOA approval. Such provisions can protect the aesthetic of the neighborhood and prevent excessive tree removal under the recently enacted law.