Neighbor Tree Trimming Issue

Visitor Question: I am trying to purchase my home. Branches from a tree behind my house have grown over the roof of my house.

Please tell me how I can get help in getting the tree trimmed.

Editors Reply: Trees cause many conflicts with neighbors. Almost everywhere in the U.S., property owners have the right to trim any of a neighbor's tree branches that are hanging over their property.

A significant limitation on this is that you have to do the trimming yourself, or pay to have it done. Also you cannot go on the neighbor's property without permission, so of course you cannot trim back beyond your own property line.

Another caution is that if the trimming is too aggressive, and it damages or kills the tree, you may be held legally responsible. This factor is an argument for a softer approach.

It would be a good idea to check for purely local laws that might be relevant to your situation. This would be accomplished by calling or visiting your city hall. If you are in a condominium by any chance, check the covenants to see what is said about overhanging trees.

First, you might try asking the neighbor if he or she agrees that the tree should be trimmed, and if so, if they would agree to split the cost with you. This accomplishes several things, including the start of a good relationship with your neighbor, possibly even a cost sharing arrangement, and getting agreement up front on the timing and manner of the trimming.

If you cannot locate or establish contact with the neighbor, you can feel free to proceed if the situation is clearly dangerous or difficult for you.

Another aspect of the way you ask the question is worrisome though. You said you are trying to buy this home. We would strongly recommend that you not do this tree trimming until you actually own the neighboring property. The relative protection of the law when you own the property would most likely disappear if you are only the prospective owner, even if you have a contract to purchase the property.

If by any chance, this tree straddles the property line such that the trunk is actually on both properties, you have what is known as a boundary tree, and local or state law may well treat that situation differently.

Note that we are not attorneys, so we are giving sound but general advice. If you are really worried about this, you should consult an attorney or the legal services office in your new location.

Comments for Neighbor Tree Trimming Issue

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Overhanging Trees
by: P Moon

I read your question, and I agree with the editior, you need to have the actual owner of the property deal with the issue, or better yet, whoever pays property insurance on the home you are "proposing" to purchase. Insurance companies consider overhanging trees to be a potential risk factor in determining insurance quotes. If a tree is close enough to overhang on the neighbors home, chances are the caliper of the tree would be large enough to do damage if it fell during a storm, or other acts of God. In this respect, the one paying the insurance on the home is the one who has the liberty to complain, and the most reason for concern. I have had serious neighbor issues, that prompted me to sue my neighbor, so it would relieve you of a bad start with the neighbor should they be the type of persons who really feels they have no responsibility in the matter. Let the homeowner test that relationship, safely, with you out of the way. (wink)

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