Who Is Responsible for Cutting Overhanging Tree Branches

Right to Maintain Trees Over Your Property Line

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••• Responsibility for Cutting Overhanging Tree Branches.  Tomekbudujedomek/Moment/Getty Images

The branches of a neighbor’s tree may hang over onto your property. In this case, you may have questions about your rights regarding the portion of the tree that is on your property. The following are general rules regarding overhanging tree branches. You must also check the law in your state, county or city to determine if different rules may apply to you.

How to Tell if a Tree Is on Your Property

When you purchase a home, you are usually required to get a property survey.

This survey will show you the boundaries of your property. Using this survey, you will be able to determine which trees fall within your property lines and which ones belong to your neighbors. The trees whose tree trunks are within your property line are considered to be part of your property, and therefore, your responsibility.

Boundary Disputes

In certain cases, there may be a tree that is right on the edge of the property. It may be difficult to determine if it is on your property or on that of your neighbor. If you do not have an existing property survey, or are unable to tell with the existing survey you have, you may have to have a new survey done and have the surveyor physically mark out the boundaries of your property.

In the rare case that the tree trunk lies right in the middle of the boundary between you and your neighbor, then it will be a mutual responsibility to take care of the tree.

You will each be responsible for whatever portion of the tree is on your property. You must each take care not to take any actions that will damage the tree as a whole, such as digging up the roots or putting down dangerous chemicals that could kill the tree. A tree that is located on the boundary line cannot be removed unless both parties agree to do so.

Who Is Responsible for Maintaining the Tree?

If a tree trunk is on your property, you are responsible for maintaining it. You are responsible for making sure any tree on your property is healthy and there are no known hazards.

Known Hazards

You must inspect your property for signs of diseased or rotten trees on a consistent basis. You must look for any weak or damaged branches. If any portion of a tree that was a known hazard falls and damages your neighbor’s property, you will likely be responsible.

In addition, if your neighbor gives you a warning about a tree or portion of a tree that they feel is a hazard or files a complaint with the town about a tree on your property that they believe to be a hazard, if you do nothing to address this concern and any portion of the tree falls on the neighbor’s property, you may be liable for any damage caused. If a complaint is filed with the town, the town may require you to remove the tree, or they may even come to remove it themselves.

Overhanging Branches on Your Property

Even if the tree trunk is on your neighbor’s property, you have the responsibility for cutting any branches that extend onto your property line. You are responsible for the cost of cutting any branches you choose to trim.

You can cut back anything up to your property line. You must take care, however, that any maintenance you perform on the tree branches does not damage the rest of the tree.

If your actions cause damage or ultimately kill a neighbor’s tree, you may be found liable for up to three times the replacement cost of the tree. Depending on the size and type of the tree, the typical replacement cost can be anywhere from $500 to $3000. Some rare trees can be valued at tens of thousands of dollars.

Trees Blocking Scenic View

A handful of cities have a “view ordinance,” which states that a scenic view is an important part of a home’s value. These ordinances allow you to sue your neighbor to force your neighbor to remove a tree or the branches of a tree that are blocking your scenic view. These ordinances are very specific, so if you live in one of the few cities that has one, you need to research the law to determine if it actually applies to you.

Debris From Overhanging Branches

If leaves, acorns, twigs or other debris from a neighbor’s tree falls onto your property, you are responsible for cleaning this debris up. Even though the tree trunk is on your neighbor’s property, anything from the tree that falls onto your property is your responsibility. These items are not considered damage.

Fallen Trees

If your tree or a portion of your tree falls onto your neighbor’s property and the tree was well maintained with no sign of disease or rot, any damage caused will be your neighbor’s responsibility. Most insurance companies will cover the claim as long as they deem it an Act of God, because this situation could not have been anticipated by a reasonable person.

Diseased Trees

If your tree or a portion of your tree falls on your neighbor’s property and the tree has obvious signs of disease or rot, or if your neighbor had filed a complaint with the town or with you about the hazard, you may be liable for any damage caused. You could be considered negligent for failing to remove a known hazard before damage occurred or for failing to properly inspect and maintain the trees on your property.