A common dispute between neighbors occurs over boundary lines and a typical theme of these boundary disputes occurs with trees and plants. There are times when the boundary lines are unclear and both neighbors believe their assessment of the land is correct. One neighbor will honestly believe they are not trespassing onto their neighbor’s land while the other neighbor thinks a clear trespass is occurring.
In the majority of the situations you should not engage in self-help. Self help is when an individual takes matters into their own hands without court supervision and courts do not condone this behavior.
The reason courts disapprove of self-help is without court supervision the court does not know who is right and nobody other than the court can decide who is legally correct. If you engage in self-help a judge will typically rule against you even if your assessment of the land was correct and the reason for this is to prevent self-help.
Courts feel so strongly about self-help in these types of situations that some states, like California, have enacted a special civil code specifically to prevent this type of behavior. In California, if you improperly cut down a neighbors tree, treble damages can be applied. These penalties vary state by state, but the penalties for engaging in self-help can be severe.
Even if you have a land survey indicating the tree is entirely on your land, it is entirely possible the survey was done improperly. Another possibility is land boundaries may have changed due to an easement, adverse possession , or the neighbor may simply have a different land survey saying they are correct. As a result of all these possibilities a court will not want you to engage in self-help even if a land survey indicates the tree is on your property. It is also preferable to handle the matter through a court proceeding, as you may be entitled to damages that you would only get if you file a lawsuit.
If you are in this type of dispute the ideal situation is to contact a real estate attorney to resolve the dispute. If the neighbor’s tree is within your property then trespass is occurring and you may obtain an injunction or court order to remove the tree.