Yes, you can legally cut your neighbor’s tree if it’s hanging in your yard.
Taking the job on yourself can open up a can of worms. If possible, get them to do it.
Knowing where your property lines are exactly is key in legal issues.
Neighborly conflicts are a reality many homeowners face, and one of the most common instances is when trees (or tree branches) from your neighbor’s yard hang over your property. Maybe you’ve asked them before to remove the branches with no luck, or you’ve noticed they’re starting to pose an immediate threat—damaging siding, exposing a bee’s nest, etc.—and it’s clear you have to take action.
The question is, what action can you take? Is it okay to cut branches from your neighbor’s tree? Fortunately, the issue has come up enough for local laws to help you sort out the issue. Learn all you need to know below.
Can You Cut Branches From Your Neighbor’s Tree?
The short answer, which you may be happy to hear, is yes, you legally can cut branches from your neighbor’s tree—so long as they are hanging over onto your property.
However, that doesn’t give you free rein to do what you want to their tree(s). For example, you cannot cut past the property line, and doing so could be costly if your neighbor decided to take legal action. Paying between $500 and $2,500 per tree in replacement value or trespassing fines could both be results of you forcing the issue.
Considering there isn’t much more than an imaginary line extending up from the edge of your property (or a fence), you have to be very careful when trimming branches from their tree.
Can You Force a Neighbor to Cut Trees or Tree Branches?
“Forcing” anyone to do anything, quite frankly, doesn’t really work, as most of us learn with enough life experience. Asking kindly, then citing any reasons why cutting down branches is necessary, is definitely the first step you should take, though. Politeness goes a long way here, especially if you don’t know them well or have had issues in the past.
Even in extreme circumstances—say 90% of the tree’s branches are hanging over your property—the tree belongs to your neighbor if the trunk is on their side. Frustrating, no doubt, but there are steps you can take if you find yourself in this situation.
When to Cut Branches From Your Neighbor’s Tree
There are a few circumstances that justify you taking action, whether that means getting your neighbor to do it, hiring a pro, or you cutting the tree branches yourself.
Cutting branches may be permissible when:
They pose a safety threat to you or your family.
Tree branches are dead, decaying, or infested with bugs that could harm other plants.
A tree or its branches look dead, which could pose a threat to your home or roof.
The overhang is bad enough that it could lower property value, especially if you’re considering selling your home.
Of course, the other circumstance is once you’ve accepted that your neighbor won’t do it themself.
How to Cut Branches from Your Neighbor’s Tree (4 Steps)
Here are the steps you can take to cut branches from your tree legally and safely.
1. Give One Final Notice
It bears repeating: try to move with the current instead of against it. You could be opening up a can of worms taking drastic action. Even if it feels like disrespect or you haven’t had luck before, ask your neighbor kindly one last time if they could take care of the overhanging branches. Let them know in a kind-but-firm manner that if they don’t do it, you intend to.
Document this event as well.
2. Double-Check Your Property Lines
Make sure you know exactly where the property line lies. This will be the major arguing factor if your neighbor takes legal action against you for cutting their trees. Drawing an invisible vertical line from your property line upward tells you where any cuts would be permissible.
At this point, you also need a game plan for how you’re going to cut the tree. Ineffective tree trimming can kill a tree, which may wind up costing you thousands if your neighbor takes action.
3. Hire Someone, Or Carefully Cut the Branches Yourself
Pruning trees can be tricky work. Most situations warrant hiring a professional tree trimmer, such as when the work is dangerous. In those cases, the process requires tools or equipment you don’t have access to and could result in branches falling on precious objects. Be sure to contact a local tree service to get the job done right.
When hiring a tree removal company, it’s a good idea to get it in writing from your neighbor (if possible) that you have their consent. Use good ladder safety techniques, including having a spotter at the ladder's base when you cut. Only ever cut on your side of the property unless they give you permission.
If you happen to be cutting fruit trees, don’t pick or eat any fruit from the trees. Even though they’re on your property, that fruit still (legally) belongs to your neighbor. It’s a technicality, but one that could prove costly if you don’t abide.
4. Document the Event
Write down the date and time you cut the branches, as well as instances that led to the event. Estimate how much you took down and if you have a witness, have them sign as well. Better to be safe than sorry!