WSVN — A tree is just a tree … unless it’s not just a tree.

Bonnie Roy: “Because my mother planted it; it’s been there a really long time.”

On this street in Deerfield Beach, many neighbors are related, and their roots are include this black olive tree.

Cindy Wilkerson: “My aunt planted that tree.”

And now when the neighbors gather to sit and talk, it’s under the tall shady tree planted by relatives 40 years ago.

Shawna Oberg: “They have grown up in this area, they have grown up in this house, in the house across the street.”

Shawna lives in the house where the tree is planted. The people on the street like the tree planted by their relatives. A new neighbor who bought a condo next door is not attached to this tree.

Shawna Oberg: “We received a notice from him that the tree be removed.”

When Shawna’s landlord refused to cut down the tree, the condo owner called the city,

and Deerfield Beach stepped in for him.

Shawna Oberg: “It blindsided us, and we had no defense against him. This city was completely on his side, and we could not understand why and how the city had anything to do with it, because it wasn’t even part of the city pipe.”

The condo owner complained that the tree’s roots had blocked a sewage line. According to Deerfield Beach’s records, the city sent out five employees, a camera which discovered the sewer line was clogged with feminine products, and a vacuum truck they sent out to clear the line. The cost to taxpayers to do the work on private property: $3,240.

Martha Lacava: “I don’t understand why the city is involved in private property. That’s a frightening thing.”

The city concluded that the tree’s roots had impacted the sewer line. A magistrate, Eugene Steinfeld, wrote that he could not order the owner to cut down his tree, but he could order him to remove the tree’s roots from the property.

Shawna Oberg: “And that is obviously strong-arming the law, because they know that if the roots are pruned, then the tree must be cut down because it must compromise this tree.”

According to arborists, Shawna is probably right. If you cut the roots on this side, the tree would be unsafe and would have to be cut down. Shawna says she has a better idea: leave the tree alone and replace the old broken sewer line.

Shawna Oberg: “Why doesn’t the condo association have to fix the condo pipe if there is a problem? Because it’s easier to cut a tree down. Save nature; fix the pipe.”

But the city magistrate says if his order isn’t followed by August 9, he will fine the property owner $100 a day. Frightened by that, the owner pulled a permit to cut the tree down, leaving these neighbors fuming.

Martha Lacava: “There are many things that they could do besides cut down the tree.”

Well, Howard, cutting the roots may doom the tree. Can Deerfield Beach do this?

Howard Finkelstein: “I am not aware of any other city in the state that forces the tree owner to cut to the roots to protect someone else’s property, but the Deerfield Beach law gives the city the right to force the tree owner to cut the roots, and by extension, the tree. However, the condo owners need to be aware, since this is such a unique law, to get to the roots, the tree owner has to tear up their parking lot, and they may have to pay to replace it. The bottom line: Someone needs to sue the city to get this law clarified or thrown out.”

A spokesperson for Deerfield Beach wanted to make it clear: The city is not forcing anyone to cut their tree down. The magistrate Steinfeld ordered the tree owner to trim the roots. When I asked why the city spent $3,240 dollars to work on a sewer line on private property, I was told when they started the work they didn’t know if the blockage was in the city’s line or on the private property. The spokesperson told me they should not have been working there and the city will not be doing that again.

Resident: “I can’t have this tree down. I play out here five or six hours a day.”

The bottom line: Unless the city changes its mind or someone sues, the tree owner has until August 9 to cut the roots and probably ruin the tree.

Shawna Oberg: “Would it be right to chop down the tree over this? No, it would not, but this city seems to think that trees can come and go.”

If the sewer line is leaking, the condo owners have to replace it. If they do, it could take the tree’s roots years to penetrate it again, so why not leave the tree and just replace the sewer line? Don’t ask me. What do I know?

A stinking mess taken root in your life? Ready to branch out for some solutions? Contact us. We won’t cut you down. We’ll try to leave you smiling in the shade.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser 7News.

Contact Help Me Howard:

E-mail: (please include your contact phone number when e-mailing)

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at

Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN

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