When You See a Tree Coming Down

What to do when you hear the chain saw next door....

First, act fast.  Even though it may take hours to cut down a tree, a tree can be irreparably damaged within the first hour of cutting.  If you see a tree coming down, do the following:

  1. Ask the tree cutter or the homeowner for a current permit.  You can ask the tree cutter or the property owner to show it to you if it is not posted as it should be.  If they say they do not have it, you can legally ask them to stop all cutting until you can see the permit.  The code says it should be posted.  The permit should also be dated within one year of the cutting date.
  2. Go to our website at www.treenextdoor.org and download a copy of the Tree Ordinance Basics (or the entire Tree Protection Ordinance) for your neighbor or the tree cutter.  This should also help you to know if what they are doing is illegal.  Educate yourself and also be a good neighbor.
  3. If the tree cutter or property owner cannot produce a permit, ask them to stop cutting until a site visit with the city arborist can be arranged.  If they refuse to stop tree cutting, first call the Arborist Division at  404-330-6836 , which is open weekdays 8:15am - 5:00pm to see if there is a permit.  If the tree is on public property or in a park, call the Office of Parks at 404-546-6813, which is open weekdays 7:30am - 4:30pm.  (If it is after hours and the Arborist Division or Office of Parks is closed, go to step 5.)  Tell the city arborist the entire street address and the type of tree, size, and location on the property when asking them to check if a current (within one year) permit exists.  If one does not exist, report the violation to the city arborist and go to step number 5.
  4. If a permit is produced, verify that the permit is current (less than 1 year old) and that it is for the exact tree(s) being cut, with the size and location on the property noted.  If you have concerns about why the permit was  issued (i.e., the permit says the tree is dead or dying when it looks perfectly healthy to you), ask the city arborist for an explanation.  You may also want to take pictures to document the condition of the tree(s) if you believe that a tree cutting permit was provided in error.  A picture of the tree cutter's truck and company name/sign is also helpful in case you need to prove who was responsible for the tree cutting at a later date.
  5. If he Arborist Division or Office of Parks is closed, or you cannot reach an arborist to check on the existence of a current permit, or you have discovered that no permit exists to remove the tree, call 911 if the tree cutter is continuing the work without a permit.  (The law says you can and should call 911 for illegal tree removal.)  Tell the 911 dispatcher that an illegal tree removal with no current permit needs to be stopped immediately.  It is the police's job to come as soon as possible and stop the removal, and they seem unaware of this, cite Section 158-61 of the Atlanta's Tree Protection Ordinance.  If you feel it is safe to do so, inform the tree cutter that you have been unable to verify that their activity is permitted and therefore, you have called the police to have them stopped.  (Quite often, they stop as soon as they hear that the police have been called.)  Also, if possible, let the city arborist know that you are calling the police.
  6. If the police do not respond within ten or fifteen minutes, you may have to call 911 back.  The more urgent you sound; the more likely they are to respond quickly as they do not want to a dispute between neighbors to escalate.
  7. It is the police’s job to stop the work if there is no permit. Make sure the police know that the permit being used must be current (less than 1 year old) and that it must be for this exact tree with its size and location noted.  You need to make sure that a tree service isn't using a permit for a different tree that has been approved to be taken down as some tree cutters will try to do this.  Also, make sure the police officer knows that a permit is good for only one year and is done on a tree-by-tree basis.  Help our police be more knowledgeable about their role in protecting our trees -- some of them just don't know.
 
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