Issues involving tree maintenance can result in serious disputes between neighbors that can create the necessity of finding a solution to the dispute and sometimes require legal action. For example, a rotting tree might fall over property lines, causing serious damage. It is also common for disputes to arise from a tree obstructing a neighbor’s view.

What Types of Laws Come into Play with Tree Maintenance Issues?

State laws and local ordinances govern tree maintenance issues. Homestead laws, adverse possession laws, tenants’ laws, and particularly, property line and fence laws will need to be consulted in considering when a tree is encroaching and who has the responsibility to take care of it. A lawyer in your state and/or city will be able to give you answers specific to your geographic area regarding your tree maintenance issues.

Importance of Maintaining Tree Roots and Branches on Property Line

Trees can present an opportunity for disputes when they cross property boundaries. They may not necessarily be contained within your neighbor’s property. There are a couple of different major problems that can occur when your neighbor’s tree encroaches onto your property.

Either the tree’s branches may hang over into your yard, or the neighbor tree’s roots may grow into your yard. The tree may also be large and become so unstable that there is a danger of it falling into your yard, and possibly causing damage to your fence (if you have one) or your property.

There are some cases where a tree is directly on a property line. In that case, the tree belongs to both property owners. They own the tree jointly, and must make joint decisions regarding the tree. Neither neighbor can harm or destroy the tree without the consent of the other neighbor.

Most of the time, though, the tree will belong to one property owner. Ownership is simple to determine, in this case, because the tree belongs to the owner on whose property the trunk (or the majority of it) is located.
Your rights regarding a neighboring property owner’s tree will depend upon the laws of your particular state. Although state laws vary, the general rule is that you may trim any encroaching branches and limbs that grow onto your property. However, you are not allowed to trim the tree to the point that it harms the health of the tree. In other words, you are not allowed to destroy your neighbor’s trees.

In the case where any trimming will cause damage to your neighbor’s tree, you are not entitled to self-help, and, therefore, you may not trim the tree yourself. You would then need to ask your neighbor to take care of it. If your neighbor refuses, you will need to look to your local laws to determine your next method of recourse.

If the tree encroachment violates a city ordinance, you may report it to the city in which you live. You should also evaluate state law for any remedies. If you are left with no other recourse to getting something done about a tree that encroaches onto your property, you may have to take the matter to court, and get a court order to force your neighbor to cut his tree.

Again, depending on your state’s laws, there may be conditions as to whether you can sue your neighbor or not. Some states require the tree to cause your property serious harm before your can sue, while others merely require the tree to interfere with your use and enjoyment of the property.

Tree Eyesores, Blocked Views, and Other Issues

Tall trees can also be a problem because they block your view and/or natural lighting. Many cities have local ordinances to limit the height of trees. If you suspect your neighbor’s tree is too tall, you may enforce your local ordinance and have your neighbor trim the tree down to a permissible height.

Regarding fruit trees, the fruit of the tree belongs to your neighbor, so you are not entitled to the fruit even if branches with fruit hang into your yard. Leaves, however, are a different story. You may not claim nuisance from your neighbor’s leaves blowing into your yard.

Who Pays for the Cost of Tree Maintenance?

In most cases, the owner of the tree will be liable for the maintenance and upkeep of their tree. Thus, your neighbor will most likely be responsible to pay for any trimming and removal costs.

In some cases, utility companies may take care of trimming branches and limbs that pose a threat, particularly to electrical wires.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues with Tree Maintenance?

If your neighbor tree’s is disturbing your property and your neighbor is unwilling to take care of the issues, then you may consider contacting a real estate lawyer near you.

The lawyer can help your file the appropriate court documents to force your neighbor to trim or remove his tree. Additionally, a real estate lawyer can help ensure that your neighbor pays his tree maintenance costs.