Maintaining New York City’s Trees

Street Trees in Brooklyn.  Image credit:

Trees are planted right into the backdrop of New York City. While there are only about 600,000 trees in the City, many of them occupy the sidewalks and streets in front of our homes. Given the dense population of the City, apartment buildings and houses are built right on top of each other. The trees planted on City streets and sidewalks need to be cared for otherwise, they can cause damage and problems for the surrounding residents and property owners. The Department of Parks and Recreation has procedures and guidelines for the care and maintenance of City trees.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has jurisdiction over all trees growing in the public right-of-way, including trees along streets, parkways, and in City parks. Newly planted City trees are watered and maintained by the tree-planting contractor for two years. Once the two-year period has passed, responsibility for the care and maintenance of street and park trees is transferred to the Department of Parks and Recreation Borough Forestry offices. The forestry crews manage and maintain the City trees to improve their longevity and the benefits they bring New Yorkers.

Parks forestry crew pruning trees. Image credit:

The Department of Parks and Recreation conducts routine pruning every year on a portion of City trees in each community board. Parks’ tracks the trees that have been pruned over the last six months as well as trees that are scheduled to be pruned here. If a tree poses a hazardous condition and an immediate risk and requires attention, report the problem to 311 or submit an online service request here. Parks foresters will inspect the tree and correct any problems if necessary. Parks will remove street trees that are in poor condition as well as any large branches that have fallen to the ground or hanging and about to fall in front of houses, in parks, and in other public places. Parks will also remove any City trees and tree branches that have fallen onto private property.

The local cable and utility company, such as Con Edison, will also regularly inspect and trim trees to keep them safe distances away from overhead power lines. Every three years Con Ed trims City trees in the right-of-way as well as privately owned trees off the right of way with branches that grow near transmission lines. Con Ed must do this to conform with minimum distance requirements between the distribution wires and surrounding trees.

If a City tree requires work outside of Park’s and Con Ed’s regular maintenance programs, any person wishing to do work on or around a street or park tree must first obtain a permit from Parks here. This work may include pruning before the next scheduled cycle, fertilizing, spraying for the control of insects and disease, planting, installing decorations, installing tree guards, and removing or relocating an existing tree. Failure to obtain a permit prior to doing any work on or near a city tree is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and/or jail up to 90 days. Removing a tree without a permit and damaging trees is a serious offense punishable by a fine up to $15,000 and/or jail up to one year.

The Department of Parks and Recreation is not responsible for any tree that is located on private property. If a privately owned tree falls on private property it is the responsibility of the property owner to have it taken care of. Property owners should consult with an independent landscape contractor to arrange for the removal of trees or tree branches on private property. If a neighbor’s tree branches or roots are encroaching onto your property, give notice to the tree owner so that they have chance to correct the problem. If the tree owner does nothing, the encroaching tree can be trimmed up to the property boundary line so long as it does not cause permanent damage to the tree. A property owner of a tree that encroaches onto another person’s property may be liable for damage if the tree falls on and damages neighbors’ property and failure to maintain the tree contributed to the damage. If a tree owner allows a tree to grow so that it uproots a boundary fence, it would be considered an encroachment onto adjacent property and the tree owner would be required to remove the offending tree.

Property owners are responsible for knowing whether a tree is located on their own property, the City’s, or neighbors’. It is essential to reference the property’s title survey to verify property lines and determine tree ownership before removing a tree or conducting any work on or around trees surrounding the property or on the sidewalk. The Department of Parks and Recreation provides an interactive map so that residents can view all of the City owned trees.

Trees & Sidewalks Program Repairs. Image credit:

Property owners are responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalk in front of their property due to damage that may result from the planting of new trees or existing tree roots. The New York City Department of Transportation inspects sidewalks throughout the City and issues violations to property owners if the sidewalk is found to be damaged or defective. When a sidewalk is damaged the property owner has two options, they can repair it themselves with the help of a contractor or they can have it repaired through Parks’ Trees and Sidewalks program. If repairing a sidewalk with the help of a contractor it may be beneficial to request a Sidewalk Design Consultation to avoid unnecessary and unlawful root cutting and advice on how to construct a sidewalk to reduce further damage from tree roots. Property owners of one, two, or three family homes that are not used for commercial purposes are eligible to apply for sidewalk repair under Parks’ Trees and Sidewalks Program. Under the program, eligible owners can file a sidewalk repair request and an inspector will evaluate the site and assign a sidewalk priority rating. Sidewalk repairs are then made in order of priority based on the severity of the damage and availability of funding.

City trees are not the only greenery found around the City that requires maintenance and upkeep. Anyone can also report overgrown grass or weeds in parks and on highways, road medians, and traffic islands here.   However, the City does not accept complaints about overgrown grass or weeds on private property, including vacant lots, unless it’s making a sidewalk difficult to use. If overgrown grass or weeds are causing an obstruction and blocking people from walking on the public sidewalk you can file an online complaint here and the Department of Sanitation will inspect the site and correct the problem if necessary or issue the property owner a violation.

By: Thomas Columbia (Thomas is a CityLaw Intern and a New York Law School Student, Class of 2019.)

6 thoughts on “Maintaining New York City’s Trees

  1. Hi there! Thanks for advocating for NYC’s trees! I just wanted to suggest a few corrections. First, the 600,000 trees you mentioned is actually closer to 700,000 at this point (679,160, according to the most recent numbers from the NYC Parks Street Tree Map). This number ONLY includes city street trees and does not include trees in parks, public housing, private property or the thousands of acres of forested area inside NYC, so the actual number of trees in the city is much, much higher than 600,000. Also, only a few activities, such as erecting a tree guard, require private citizens to obtain work permits from the City — anyone wishing to weed, water, add compost or mulch, or plant flowers in the bed of their neighborhood street trees is welcome and encouraged to do so, no permit necessary. More info on caring for NYC street trees can be found at

  2. Thanks for the great article. Placing the responsibility and cost upon homeowners for the sidewalk trip and fall liability conditions and its repair created by NYC Parks and its street tree installation plans is a crime unto itself. The misplanting of street trees by unqualified tree planting landscape contractors with ineffective and absentee Forestry supervision is a well known hallmark of the NYC Parks Forestry tree planting program. It has lead to scores of tree establishment problems and infrastructure conflicts in the years following the tree installation. The avoidable tree misplantings by failure to follow and enforce tree installation protocols leads to actual tree and sidewalk conflicts in later years, where it is occurring. This is b/c street tree plantings by NYC Parks is a numbers game and not about quality of the deliverables. Can you imagine that even construction contractors have been handed lucrative street tree planting contracts never having been vetted for their record and skillset to be able to do so. And the conflicts with sidewalks and surrounding infrastructure is not caused by the tree as many would think, but by those that initiated the planting process and its decision making. Some places are simply meant not to have trees in the first place.

  3. IT IS OUTRAGEOUS, that new york city, plants trees that property owners of commercial and apartment buildings do not want, and then refuses to restore and pay for the ultimately resulting sidewalk damages, from growing tree roots, and then also refuses to pay for personal injury to people, caused by trees, not wanted by property owners. THE ONLY FAIR SOLUTION IS TO HAVE NYC pay for the removal of all trees, not wanted by property owners, as NYC does not maintain them.

  4. I am completely agree with the person that wrote that the city and parks they completely are unaware of the growing of the trees and damages to sidewalks. I been a homeowner for13years and till this time I never saw no one to take care of the tree in front of my house. 4 years ago a lady trip and fell as result of roots trees lifted the sidewalk and till this time the case is in court. To end this few days ago DOT let a notice over my fence of a violation about the sidewalk lifted and broken caused by the tree.

  5. The 600,00 trees probably refers to street trees and does not count trees growing in parks, along highways and on private and institutional lands. When totaled, that comes to about 7 million trees, according to NYC Parks, which are an important element ion NYC’s environmental resilience plan. Simply put, trees are Mother Nature’s air conditioners.

  6. Trees enhance the beauty of neighborhoods and increase the property value. Building owners do not own the sidewalks therefore they do not have any rights to whether a tree has been there for 50 years. They do not want to own the sidewalks otherwise they’re at risk of much more than cracks in a sidewalk.
    I do agree that the city should take full responsibility for tree damage to sidewalks and liability for lawsuits due to street damage.
    If they took care of the trees then maybe there would be more appreciation and education and less building owner destruction. Which is currently happening all over Queens. We have trees 100’s of years old and people put holes in the roots, carve the bark off and cover the roots with brick or cement. No parks dept gives a fine. On top of this it is dangerous to the public. A damaged tree can fall on cars and people during storms. If a 100 year old tree fell on a person, then what? If the city will not take liability than teach home owners how to get roots to not lift sidewalks. Trees are important for the environment, give neighborhoods character, give dogs a place to relieve themselves other than your front stoop and absorb water during storms. I would like to see creative solutions given to older trees to counterbalance roots since they are cut to fix roads. They are tipping over from no root support.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.