Tree Removal FAQ

The following frequently asked questions highlight aspects of the Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance that provides for protection of our city’s trees. More information on how to apply for a permit to take down a tree can be found at the Arborist Division website.

Is a permit needed to remove a tree on private property?

A permit is required to remove any tree of 6 inch or greater diameter at breast height (DBH) on private property.  DBH can be determined by measuring the circumference of the tree with a tape measure at 4.5 feet above the natural ground at the base of the tree and dividing by 3.14 (pi).

Is a permit needed to remove a tree on city property?

A permit is required to remove, destroy or injure any tree on city property, regardless of size.

Does one need a permit to remove a dead, dying or diseased tree, or a tree that would be better replaced by a hardier specimen?

Any tree on city property or any tree on private property that is 6 inches or greater diameter at breast height (DBH) needs a permit to remove, regardless of species or present condition. Even dead trees require a permit for removal. [Sec. 158-29; Sec. 158-101(a)]

What should I do if I see a tree being cut but I don’t know if the tree is permitted to be cut?

Ask the tree cutter and/or the home owner to show you the permit.  If they are unable to physically produce the permit, report it immediately.  Do not take their word for it that they have one.

If I see a tree being removed without a permit being made available for my inspection, who do I contact?

If the tree is on city property, contact the Office of Parks at 404-546-6813. The Office of Parks handles park maintenance requests, trees down in the street, and requests for inspection of a City-owned tree. If it’s on private property, contact the Arborist Division of the Office of Buildings at 404-330-6836.  Both the city foresters and city arborists have police power to enforce the ordinance. If you are unsure whether or not the tree is on city or private property, contact the Arborist Division first. Also, the Atlanta police department should be called (911) to halt any tree removal or tree destruction activities until a permit for the removal or destruction is obtained.

Sometimes the police should be called first as they can respond more quickly. Many trees are cut illegally on weekends when the city offices are closed, so don’t hesitate to call the police if you see illegal tree cutting activity on the weekend. (It is written in the Tree Ordinance [Sec. 158-33] that the police must respond to calls about illegal tree cutting, so if the police dispatcher does not seem receptive to sending an officer out, make sure that the dispatcher knows that the police are legally obligated to respond.)

Should I report a tree being cut illegally if it’s already down by the time I see it?

Absolutely.  Recompense can still be charged for a tree that has been cut down, which puts money back into the city’s tree planting programs.  Take pictures and measurements of the part of the tree that is still remaining, even if it just a stump.  If a tree has been removed without a permit, the top diameter of a stump less than 4.5 feet tall shall be considered the diameter at breast height (DBH) of an illegally destroyed tree for the purpose of calculating recompense.

How can I get a permit to remove a dead, dying, or hazardous (DDH) tree?

If the tree is on city property, contact the forestry division of the Office of Parks.  If it’s on private property, contact the  Arborist Division of the Office of Buildings and complete this form.  DDH permit applications are approved or denied based on an individual tree inspection by a city forester or arborist.  Denied DDH applications may be appealed.  Approved permits may not be appealed.  [Sec. 158-101(c)(1)]

How can I appeal a DDH permit to remove what appears to be a healthy tree?

Approved DDH permits may not be appealed, which can be a source of frustration when you suspect that someone may have avoided paying recompense on destroying what appears to be a perfectly healthy tree.  Often a number of trees on the same property may be declared DDH, such as when a developer is clear-cutting property for construction, which obviously lessens the recompense the developer has to pay for cutting trees.  The lack of appeal rights when trees are determined by the city arborist to be DDH is a known and often exploited loophole in the Tree Ordinance.

We strongly encourage you to contact the city arborist if it appears that a DDH has been granted in error, but at this time the ordinance does not permit you to appeal an approved DDH permit before the Tree Conservation Committee.  However, if you complain, the city arborist may re-inspect the tree(s) in question and could reverse his or her decision.  Providing documentation from a private arborist as to why the tree(s) is not DDH may help you better make your case to the city arborist.  A tree may appear to be healthy even if it isn't.

Can a healthy tree ever be taken down without recompense being required?

Yes, a tree within 5 feet of the foundation of a single-family residence or a duplex is usually approved for a permit as a “DDDH” tree if it meets several additional criteria. [Sec. 158-101(i)(1-12)]

Additionally,  a permit to remove certain healthy trees of undesirable species – Mimosa, Ailanthus, White mulberry, Paper mulberry, Chinaberry, Paulownia, Cherry laurel, Bradford pear and Leyland cypress – may be granted without recompense if the tree in question is less than 12 inches DBH and meets certain other criteria. 
[Sec. 158-102(b)]

Can someone be forced to take down a tree that is DDH?

Yes, a DDH tree on private property may be declared a nuisance tree and its removal forced if it threatens public streets or public property.
[Sec. 158-110(1)]

What requirements must be met for a healthy tree to be legally removed?

All requirements of the ordinance must be met; a tree replacement plan must be approved; and, in the case of building permits, the tree must be located within the buildable area of the lot.  The only exception is if the tree is in the setback or required yard areas that must be used for driveways or utilities that cannot be accomplished through any other means. [Sec. 158-102(a)(1-3)

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