Do you have a tree in your yard? If so, it is important to know what rights your neighbour has when it comes to trimming that tree.
The law states that if the branches of the trees overhang onto their property and they are causing damage (pulling down power lines or shading their home), then they can trim those branches.
But if no damages are being caused by the tree, then your neighbour does not have any right to interfere with its growth unless you permit them. So before getting into an argument with your neighbour about how high up on their property line they can go when trimming, make sure you understand who has the legal right to do so!
Your neighbour might ask you to trim your tree. If this is a new request, try and talk with them about it first before you start cutting the branches. This is a helpful guide on your rights when it comes to tree trimming in your own yard.
Understanding What is Pruning and Trimming
The practice entails the targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted plant material from crop and landscape plants. Some try to remember the categories as “the 4 D’s”: the last general category being “deranged”.
In general, the smaller the branch that is cut, the easier it is for a woody plant to compartmentalise the wound and thus limit the potential for pathogen intrusion and decay. It is, therefore, preferable to make any necessary formative structural pruning cuts to young plants rather than removing large, poorly placed branches from mature plants.
In nature, meteorological conditions such as wind, ice and snow, and salinity can cause plants to self-prune. This natural shedding is called abscission.
Specialised pruning practices may be applied to certain plants, such as roses, fruit trees, and grapevines. It is important when pruning that the tree’s limbs are kept intact, as this is what helps the tree stay upright. Different pruning techniques may be deployed on herbaceous plants than those used on perennial woody plants. Hedges, by design, are usually (but not exclusively) maintained by hedge trimming rather than by pruning.
Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or redirecting growth), improving or sustaining health, reducing risk from falling branches, preparing nursery specimens for transplanting, and both harvesting and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits.
Pruning landscape and amenity trees
For arboricultural purposes, the unions of tree branches (i.e. where they join together) are placed in one of three types: collared, collarless or codominant. Regardless of the overall type of pruning being carried out, each type of union is cut in a particular way so that the branch has less chance of regrowth from the cut area and best chance of sealing over and compartmentalising decay. This is often referred to by arborists as “target cutting”.
Branches die off for a number of reasons, including light deficiency, pest and disease damage, and root structure damage. A dead branch will at some point decay back to the parent stem and fall off. This is normally a slow process but can be quickened by high winds or extreme temperatures.
The main reason deadwooding is performed is safety. Situations that usually demand deadwood removal are trees that overhang public roads, houses, public areas, and gardens. Trees located in wooded areas are usually assessed as lower risk, but assessments consider the number of visitors. Usually, trees adjacent to footpaths and access roads are considered for deadwood removal.
Another reason for deadwooding is amenity value, i.e. a tree with a large amount of deadwood throughout the crown looks more aesthetically pleasing with the deadwood removed.
The physical practice of deadwooding can be carried out most of the year though not when the tree is coming into leaf. The deadwooding process speeds up the tree’s natural abscission process. It also reduces unwanted weight and wind resistance and can help overall balance.
Crown canopy lifting
Crown lifting involves the removal of the lower branches to a given height. The height is achieved by removing whole branches or removing the parts of branches that extend below the desired height. The branches are normally not lifted to more than one-third of the tree’s total height.
Crown lifting is done for access, these being pedestrian, vehicle or space for buildings and street furniture. Lifting the crown will allow traffic and pedestrians to pass underneath safely. This pruning technique is usually used in the urban environment as it is for public safety and aesthetics rather than tree form and timber value.
Crown lifting introduces light to the lower part of the trunk; this, in some species, can encourage epicormic growth from dormant buds. To reduce this, sometimes smaller branches are left on the lower part of the trunk.
However, excessive removal of the lower branches can displace the canopy weight, this will make the tree top-heavy, therefore adding stress to the tree. In addition, when a branch is removed from the trunk, it creates a large wound.
This wound is susceptible to disease and decay and could lead to reduced trunk stability. Therefore, much time and consideration must be taken when choosing the height to which the crown is to be lifted.
This would be an inappropriate operation if the tree species’ form was of a shrubby nature. This would therefore remove most of the foliage and would also largely unbalance the tree. In addition, this procedure should not be carried out if the tree is in decline, poor health or dead, dying or dangerous (DDD), as the operation will remove some of the photosynthetic areas the tree uses. This will increase the decline rate of the tree and could lead to death.
If the tree is of great importance to an area or town, (i.e. veteran or ancient), then an alternative solution to crown lifting would be to move the target or object, so it is not in range.
For example, diverting a footpath around a tree’s drip line, so the crown lift is not needed. Another solution would be to prop up or cable-brace the low hanging branch. This is a non-invasive solution which in some situations, can work out more economically and environmentally friendly.
Conflicts Involving Trees and Neighbors
Trees can give your property shade in the summertime, a home for songbirds, and general beauty. But trees also can be a source of tension among neighbours if they’re not properly maintained, drop debris over the fence, or cause other problems.
While trees and neighbours can sometimes be a volatile combination, especially among neighbours who generally don’t get along, it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities before taking drastic measures.
The following answers some frequently asked questions about disputes involving neighbours and trees, including the right to trim encroaching branches and how trees relate to (and sometimes define) property lines.
If my neighbor’s tree branches hang over my yard, can I trim them?
Yes. By law, you have the right to trim branches and limbs that extend past the property line. However, the law only allows tree trimming and tree cutting up to the property line. You may not go onto the neighbour’s property or destroy the tree.
If you do harm the tree, you could be found liable for up to three times the value of the tree. Most trees have a replacement value of between $500 and $2500. Ornamental or landmark trees can have a value of between $20,000 and $60,000.
Can I Eat The Fruit If My Neighbour Owns A Fruit Tree And The Branches Hang Over My Property?
No. The tree’s fruit belongs to the tree’s owner, so don’t pick any of the fruit. However, courts are divided on who can have fallen fruit, so check your local laws to see if you can eat any fruit that falls off the tree.
If my neighbour’s leaves keep blowing into my yard, do I have a good nuisance claim?
No. Leaves are considered a natural product. So even if the leaves cause damage, like clogging your gutters or pipes, you have no legal claims against the owner of the tree.
If, however, the tree branches that are shedding the leaves are hanging over your yard, or the tree trunk is encroaching on your property, then you have a right to trim those branches up to the property line.
Most of a large tree hangs over my yard, but the trunk is in the neighbour’s yard. Who owns the tree?
The neighbour owns the tree. So long as the tree trunk is wholly in the neighbour’s yard, it belongs to the neighbour.
When the tree trunk is divided by the property lines of two or more people, it is referred to as a “boundary tree.” In the case of a “boundary tree,” all of the property owners own the tree and share responsibility for it. Therefore, tree removal without the consent of all the property owners is unlawful.
A Storm Knocked Down My Neighbour’s Tree Limb Onto My Property. Is He Responsible For The Damages?
The court will probably apply a reasonable care standard. If your neighbour took reasonable care to maintain the tree branch and did not seem to a reasonable person to be threatening to fall, then probably not. If a reasonable person could not have avoided this from happening in any way, then it will be deemed an “Act of God,” and the neighbour won’t be liable.
On the other hand, if the tree was not properly maintained and your neighbour knew or should have known that the tree or its branches posed a threat, then your neighbour could be liable for the damages caused.
My Neighbour’s Tree Looks Like It’s Going To Fall On My House. What Should I Do?
Landowners are responsible for maintaining the trees on their property. Legally, they have two duties: make reasonable inspections and take care to ensure the tree is safe. If your neighbour doesn’t remove the dangerous tree, and the tree does, in fact, cause damage, your neighbour can be held liable.
If you’ve spoken to your neighbour about the tree issue, and he hasn’t done anything about it, you do have laws that protect you. The tree may constitute a nuisance by interfering with your use and enjoyment of your own property. You could file a nuisance claim, and if the court finds that the true is a nuisance, the court may order the tree removed.
Most cities have ordinances prohibiting property owners from keeping dangerous conditions on their property. However, if you call your municipality, they may remove the tree themselves or order your neighbour to do it.
Utility companies may also have an interest in the tree’s removal if the tree’s condition threatens any of its equipment or causes a fire hazard. A simple call to a utility company may prompt them to remove the tree themselves.
In most states, the bothered neighbour can engage in the tree trimming or root cutting herself and doesn’t have a claim against the tree owner. However, other states provide that neighbours may sue if the following conditions are met:
- Regardless of if there is property damage, a landowner may sue her neighbour to make that neighbour trim the branches that encroach the landowner’s property.
- Serious harm caused by encroaching tree limbs or tree roots may give rise to a lawsuit. “Serious harm” usually requires structural damage.
- If an encroaching tree was planted, not wild, the neighbour may sue.
- A neighbour may only sue if the tree is noxious. “Noxious” means that the tree must be inherently dangerous or poisonous, AND the tree must cause actual damage.
If You Disagree With Your Neighbour About A Tree Or Hedge
If you and your neighbour disagree about a problem with a tree or hedge, it’s best to try to resolve things informally. Problems could include, for example, if you think a hedge is too high or branches from your neighbour’s tree are overhanging into your garden.
If you rent your home, talk to your landlord about the problem. They might be able to deal with the disagreement on your behalf.
Before you cut a tree, check if it’s protected by a Tree Preservation Order. If it is, you’ll have to ask the council for permission to cut the tree even if it’s yours.
Check Who Owns The Tree Or Hedge
If the trunk or main stem of a tree or hedge is on your land, you own it. If it’s on the boundary between properties, you’ll need to check the legal documents you got when you bought your home. They’ll indicate where the boundary is and might say who’s responsible for the tree or hedge.
You can buy the documents from the Land Registry if you don’t have them – it only costs a few pounds. It might be a good idea to buy the documents for your neighbour’s house too – they might give information that’s not covered in yours.
If it’s not clear where the boundary is, you can get help from RICS – they work with surveyors who can help with property problems.
Try To Find A Solution With Your Neighbour
Talk to your neighbour face to face if you can – make a note of what you agreed. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to them, write a letter or ask someone to contact them for you. Keep copies of any letters or emails you send or receive.
It’s often best to find a compromise, for example, sharing the cost of pruning a hedge even though you think your neighbour owns it. It could help you keep a good relationship and might be cheaper than paying a solicitor to resolve the disagreement.
Eight Ways You Could Be Breaking The Law In Your Own Garden
Garden experts have published a list of eight things Britons should avoid doing in their gardens this spring and summer if they want to stay on the right side of the law. The list covers common issues such as overhanging branches, boundary disputes, blocked sunlight and wind fallen fruit, among others.
For example, a person may cut back tree branches that overhang into their garden, as long as they do not go past the boundary line and there is no Tree Preservation Order in place.
But they cannot keep the trimmings nor any fruit or flowers on them – nor can they simply throw the branches back into the tree owner’s garden without permission.
Surprisingly, homeowners are also being urged to be mindful of where they place popular garden accessories likes trampolines and hot tubs.
1. Trimming Branches
If a tree’s branches overhang into your property from a neighbour’s, you can trim them, but only up to the property line. You can’t lean into the neighbour’s garden to do this, though, as it constitutes trespass. Also, if a tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order, you can’t cut the branches.
2. Keeping Branches
Although you can cut branches that hang into your garden up to the property line, they still belong to the neighbour – as do any flowers or fruit on them.
Your neighbour is legally entitled to demand them back, so you won’t be able to stockpile the branches for your next bonfire. But do not throw them into the neighbour’s garden, as this could constitute garden waste fly-tipping.
This also applies to hedges. If a hedge grows along the boundary between two gardens, both neighbours are responsible for trimming. If a hedge belonging to a neighbour grows into your garden, you can trim it, but, as with tree branches, you must return the trimmings to the owner.
3. Keep Windfallen Fruit
Windfallen fruit technically still belongs to the person who owns the tree. So, if your neighbour’s windfalls end up on your lawn, ask for permission if you want to keep them.
4. New Trees
Under the Rights of Light Act, if a window has received natural light for 20 years or more, you and your neighbours can’t block it with a new tree.
5. Fences And Boundaries
These can be tricky to resolve. The house deeds should indicate who owns fences and is responsible for boundaries (although there is no legal responsibility to maintain boundaries unless the deeds state otherwise). But boundaries can move over time and cause disputes later. You may need to contact HM Land Registry for help with boundary disputes.
6. Hot Tubs
Although a bubbly, relaxing hot tub is a pleasure for most people, the noise it creates could constitute a nuisance to your neighbours, so check that they’re happy for you to have one installed before going ahead.
Whether you’re hosting a family barbecue or simply relaxing next to a chiminea in the garden, smoke can also be a nuisance to your neighbours and could put you on the wrong side of the law.
Be careful where you place your children’s trampolines – try to avoid placing it anywhere your kids (or the adults) would be able to see into neighbours’ gardens or houses when they’re bouncing away as this affects their right to privacy.