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Sunday, December 10, 2023
Dec. 10, 2023

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Is eating fruit from my neighbor’s tree considered theft in Washington? What to know


KENNEWICK — Just imagine, it’s the height of autumn and you see glistening red apples hanging from your neighbor’s tree over the fence line from branches extending onto your property. The early morning dew and warm afternoon sun is constantly winking at you — do you take the risk?

Why not just grab a few?

Well, for starters, tree laws in Washington state can get extremely tricky. Many laws are old-fashioned and being interpreted by modern judges for modern times. Once you cross over someone’s property to pick their fruit, you are trespassing, according to the Revised Code of Washington.

But what does the law in Washington say about branches with fruit extending over a property line? Can you pick fruit that hangs over your property? What about public places and property with fruit-bearing plants near a sidewalk?

Trees near property lines in WA

The laws regarding trees, especially “boundary trees” as they are referred to legally, vary by state.

In Washington, branches and fruit that cross over the property line belong to that property owner. If fruit hangs over your property, you can legally pick it. You can also trim or prune parts of the tree that cross onto your property, within reason. But be careful, if these actions harm or kill the tree, you may be ordered to pay a significant fee.

This is the only circumstance in Washington in which someone can legally trim a tree that does not belong to them without the owner’s permission.

This is a common law regarding trees straddling the line between two properties. Some other states have “trunk laws,” which allocate ownership of the entire tree to the owner of the trunk. If a tree trunk is on your neighbor’s property, any fruit that hangs over your property is still your neighbor’s, in these states.

Can I pick fruit from the sidewalk?

It is not recommended to pick fruit you pass by while walking in public. Whether it is owned privately or by your city or county, you never know what the fruit is intended for. It’s always best to ask whoever owns the tree, if you can, before picking anything.

Even if a branch on private property appears to hang over public property, the city of Kennewick’s Public Relations Officer Evelyn Lusignan says taking anything that isn’t your property is never recommended.

She said the city has no blanket statement on picking fruit in public spaces, nor can they offer legal advice. That said, it is not legally recommended to pick any fruit you haven’t been given explicit permission to pick.

Lusignan also told the Herald that Kennewick doesn’t really have fruit growing publicly, and if fruit did start to grow somewhere, they’d want people to speak with the city before helping themselves.

State and federal parks may have their own regulations, especially if they are common foraging destinations. Check the rules for any park or recreational space before picking fruit.

You might be better off checking out one of the U-pick options around Tri-Cities.

When you do pick fruit, be sure to do so carefully, without damaging the plant. It is also common practice to leave some for others, never picking a tree or plant completely bare.

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