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Tree Ordinance Questions and Answers

A new street tree ordinance is in the works for Seattle.  SDOT Urban Forestry has held several community meetings, and more are on the calendar for January.  For information on the ordinance, with meeting details, see:

Here are some questions amd amswers generated by meetings and neighborhood blog postings:

Why are property owners responsible for things in the sidewalk and planting strip area, and liable for damage or injury?  

Responsibility for maintenance of the planting strip lies with property owner, according to the Seattle Municipal Code Section 10.52.030. The City must ensure that the street and sidewalk are safe and passable, but the property owner must maintain the sidewalk and vegetation abutting his or her property.    

What if a property can’t afford to take care of their trees?

Maintaining vegetation is one of many responsibilities (and expenses) that comes with owning property.  

 Who owns street trees?

Trees that were planted by the City of Seattle are owned by the City.  Trees that were planted by any other entity are owned by the abutting property owner.  The tree may have been planted by a past owner, or as part of a neighborhood tree planting program coordinated by volunteers.  Even if the trees were provided by the City, if the City did not plant the trees, they are privately maintained.  A map showing all City-maintained trees will be online and available to the public by the end of January 2012.  If you have questions about maintenance responsibility for a specific tree in the meantime, you can inquire through   The City maintains an inventory of trees it has planted.  An inventory of privately-maintained trees, conducted in 1991, will also be online.