Dear Real Estate Adviser,
What can I do about my neighbor's tree roots damaging my sewage pipes? I told her of the problem and she just said, "Sue me or move." The tree is in her yard but the roots are intruding onto (and under) mine. Can you help me?
-- Jay M.
I'll give it a shot. This is a potentially serious matter because any seepage could create residual water damage under your property and (or) sewage leakage. Ugh.
First off, as you may have ascertained, your neighbor's tree roots became your problem when they crept underground and onto your side of the property line. Of course, you do have the right to sever those roots (ideally at the hands of a professional), much like you'd reserve the right to cut any tree limbs overhanging your land.
You can consider the self-help option
You don't say whether the toilet or floor drain has backed up or clogged or how you came to diagnose the problem. But experts say a telltale sign of a root invasion is if you hear a gargling noise when you flush the toilet. You might wonder how or why something so organic can grow into a pipe if there are no overt cracks or other openings. Well, the need to find water is a strong motivator, apparently, as in so many other "nature finds a way" scenarios.
Far handier people than me say you can clear roots by obtaining about a half-pound of copper sulfate, available at garden-supply stores and hardware stores, and flushing it down the toilet. A more expensive and caustic chemical called dichlobenil -- a name eerily similar to that of an old classmate of mine -- is known to do the same trick.
Or you can hire a professional to take care of it
Either of these could kill the sections of the roots that found their way into your pipes, though there's no guarantee they won't grow back. And you may still need to replace the sewer pipes. That's why it might be best to bite the bullet and hire a plumbing firm. The pros can deploy a tiny camera to determine the extent of the invasion, then employ a mechanical auger with blades or possibly a high-pressure hydrojet to remove the roots. The company may also be willing to sever the roots to the neighbor's tree or refer you to a contractor who can.
This, too, may only be a temporary solution. A well-rated, highly reviewed plumbing company can present you the most effective options.
Not much you can do about an inconsiderate neighbor
Alas, there's little legal recourse to exercise against your unnecessarily snarky neighbor. However, should her tree's roots begin to uplift the sidewalk or damage the foundation of your home, then this is considered encroachment and she may be required to remove the tree. Only in this kind of encroachment, there won't be a man in stripes around to throw a little yellow penalty flag, so you'd have to call the city or contact an experienced property attorney. Laws on this kind of thing vary from state to state.
But there are few or no grounds to sue your neighbor over the present situation. You can get some estimates and ask if she would help with the remediation. But her attitude doesn't augur well for a diplomatic solution to the root of your problem, so to speak.
I wish I had a more satisfactory answer for you. Good luck!