Legal information for plants & trees growing on a neighbor's property

Written by carmen clarke-brown
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Introduction
  • Introduction

    Legal information for plants & trees growing on a neighbor's property

    Laws protect neighbours from themselves, appropriately so in the care of trees, shrubs or other gardening activities that might infringe upon each other's property. The laws are saving grace for hot tempers and bad outcomes. People have been involved in fist fights, embroiled in bitter disputes and escalating confrontations, all because of a tree branch or messy berries falling on a neighbour's property.

    A bank of great oaks line a park in this painting. (trees image by Charlie Rosenberg from Fotolia.com)

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    Use a Property Map

    Before hacking away at the errant tree branch overhang from your neighbour's yard onto your property, Realty.org suggests that you familiarise yourself with property boundaries by finding the property boundary line on a land surveyor's map, which is provided to homeowners at a house closing, and especially look for the posts that demonstrate boundary lines on the map.

    An aged oak stands firm. (Oak Tree in Winter image by Flytiger41 from Fotolia.com)

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    Rights Under the Law

    Homeowners have a common legal right to prune tree limbs, roots and branches from a neighbour's yard that intrude onto their property, and that law allows property owners to take action rather than legally pursuing the issue in court, Realtor.org says. Pruning removes diseased plant parts or broken branches that have an inherent capacity to cause injury. The law, however, does not protect you if you chop down the branches without considering your neighbour's right as well. Study the line of demarcation on the property map, and do not overstep the boundary while pruning offending trees or shrubs. Avoid being charged with trespassing.

    An old oak tree bears signs of many prunings. (old English oak tree image by Doug Stacey from Fotolia.com)

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    Considerations

    Hire a professional pruning service if you are unsure how to properly prune the tree branches overhanging your property. Your goal should be to prune the tree and not to injure it. Professionals can effectively prune the tree and not destroy it. Be aware that you cannot prune 90 per cent of your neighbour's tree and expect the tree to survive, even though 90 per cent of the tree might be hanging over your property, Realtor.org advises.

    A pruned oak tree stands bare in a backyard. (Maison au toit rouge et arbre élagué. Marseilles, France. image by Blue Moon from Fotolia.com)

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    Expert Insight

    Consider that the tree you wish to prune might be structurally weak and that it will be reduced in strength if you excessively prune it. Tree problems are not always obvious to the naked eye, and it is wise to anticipate potential problems. You may have pruned and weakened the tree when a gusty breeze later brought it to the ground, causing your house to be damaged in the mix. From a legal standpoint, your neighbour cannot be blamed for the loss you have now suffered. Also, depending on which way the wind was blowing when the tree crashed, it might have damaged your neighbour's house, and you could be sued for damages. Hire an arborist who can assess the strength of the tree beforehand. If you establish that the tree is unstable or that dead limbs are hanging precariously, this could place your property at risk. Have a civil discussion with your neighbour about the condition, voice your concerns and then document the verbal exchange in writing. The arborist's findings could be crucial evidence when added to a prewritten cost estimate for correcting the problem, should a mishap occur in the future, Realtor.org suggests. By taking these precautions, your neighbour could be held legally responsible for damages and injury claimed by you in a future civil suit.

    A great oak falls into ruin. (The Dying Oak image by john hodgkiss from Fotolia.com)

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    Clean Up After Pruning Tree

    Once you have pruned the overhang caused by your neighbour's tree, Realtor.org suggests that you clean up the debris left behind on your property, because your neighbour is not responsible for the cleanup, in spite of the fact that the tree is physically located on the neighbour's lawn. Good neighbour relationships breed reasonable understanding. Communicate with your neighbour and forge a plan to use the same tree service by asking whether your neighbour might be interested in hiring your tree service company, and it may even be possible for both yards to be serviced on the same day, Realtor.org suggests. A dialogue opens up a direct line of open communication, which will make it easier in the event a tree on either side of the properties becomes problematic in the future.

    A splendidly gnarled and majestic oak tree stands proud. (old oak tree image by Vortigern69 from Fotolia.com)

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