Landscaping & Neighbors: Who is Responsible?

In follow up to our previous post about dealing with fencing disputes with your neighbors trees are also a major source of neighborly spats:

  • Trimming: If a tree on your neighbor’s property has branches that extend on to your property, you do have the right to trim the encroaching branches without seeking your neighbor’s permission. However, you may only trim the branches up to the property line. You may not enter your neighbor’s property to accomplish the trimming and you may not trim so much that it will destroy the tree. If you trim beyond the property line, you can be held liable for damage to your neighbor’s property.
  • Boundary trees: The location of a tree is determined by its trunk. If the trunk is wholly on your neighbor’s property, that is their tree and you are only permitted to trim the branches, as described above. If the trunk crosses the property line, the tree is a “boundary tree” and is jointly owned by everyone whose property the trunk touches. Destruction of a boundary tree can only be done with the unanimous consent of all owners.
  • Nuisance: If your neighbor’s tree or other landscaping is causing leaves, seeds, fruits, pollen, or any other natural consequence of such vegetation to enter your yard, your neighbor is not required to do anything to prevent that. It is your responsibility to pick up whatever natural little befalls your yard.
  • Property Damage: If your home or other property has been damaged by fallen trees/limbs that belong to a neighbor, the neighbor may or not be responsible. If your neighbor has taken reasonable care to maintain the tree, and the tree appeared healthy and not an apparent threat to surrounding property before the incident that caused the damage, the neighbor would not be responsible for any damage to your property. However, if the tree was sickly, and full of dead or damaged limbs, it is your neighbor’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the tree—to remove the dangerous branches or the whole tree if necessary. That is part of their duty as a property owner. You are not required to put your neighbor on notice of your concerns about the tree and you are not required to share in the costs of removal or maintenance of the tree.

Of course, the best advice is to always be reasonable with your neighbors, if you can. You have to live with these people, after all! Still, it is important to know your legal rights and responsibilities. And keep in mind that even though the law regarding landscaping is as stated above and you do not have to make any accommodations outside those bound, if you enter into any agreement with your neighbors regarding splitting costs or responsibilities for landscape maintenance, you can be held to those agreements. The law is only the framework that is in place absent other agreements.