— Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, which offers consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.
If roots or branches of a neighbor’s tree pose problems for you, it’s likely you have the right to take action, even if the neighbor won’t.
Tree laws vary widely, but most permit homeowners to trim overhanging branches or overreaching roots that cause damage, create danger or obstruct a view, according to highly rated tree service providers and an expert on tree and neighbor law.
The right carries some limitations. One of the main ones is that whatever action you take to remedy the problem can’t lead to permanent damage to the tree. Also, some communities have ordinances restricting which trees can be cut or removed, regardless of whose property they’re on.
Here’s advice our researcher compiled, based on interviews with three experts:
• Talk to your neighbors before hiring a tree company. Not only is it simple courtesy, it may make the job easier for your professional. One highly rated tree service provider told us that he’s surprised at how many homeowners hire him to trim a tree belonging to a neighbor they’ve never talked to about the situation.
• Make sure you know for sure who owns the tree. If the full trunk is in your neighbor’s yard, the neighbor owns the tree, no matter how many branches or roots grow on your side of the property line. If the trunk rests on multiple properties, all owners must agree to trimming or removal.
• Be sure you know your local laws, ordinances and restrictions. The bottom line in nearly every area is that any trimming efforts must not cause the tree permanent damage. Be aware that in many places, you’re responsible for paying for damage caused if a neighbor’s tree falls on your property. The case may be different if the neighbor’s tree is dead. One expert suggests photographing neighbor’s trees that seem to be dead and to make sure there’s a record of complaints made to the property owner and, if nothing was done, to local officials.
• Consult a certified arborist and, possibly, a real estate attorney.