Question: I have a question about ownership and responsibility of a tree that is on my boyfriend’s property. Who has to trim branches on a tree? We have asked so many individuals (lawyers, tree companies, neighbors) and we can’t seem to find any information regarding responsibility of tree trimming or removal when it’s on someone else’s property. The tree is on our property and isn’t in any danger of falling onto anyone’s home. However, the neighbor is complaining about the tree branches and she wants them trimmed. It is to my understanding that if she wants them trimmed, she can do it herself. She is threatening to sue us if we don’t trim the tree. She ignores our calls and only wants to move or act on her time (whenever its convenient for her).
Answer: If I understand correctly, you have a tree on your property (actually your boyfriend’s property) that overhangs a neighbor’s property. You say that the tree does not pose a hazard or a threat to property or people. Your neighbor would like you to trim branches that overhang her property or to pay to have the branches trimmed.
Do You Need to Trim Branches on the Tree?
First, you need to determine if the tree poses a threat or creates a hazard. The best way to make this determination is to have a certified arborist take a look at the tree. Having an expert examine the situation can help end the he-said, she-said argument. The expert can tell you if you need to trim branches on the tree. You can find a list of arborists here.
If the expert says the tree is not a hazard, then you have no legal obligation to trim the tree. Even if the branches hang over your neighbor’s property, you are not responsible for cutting them down simply because she does not like the branches. Your neighbor has a right to trim the branches up to the property line. She can trim the branches any way she would like as long as she does not kill the remaining tree. Aesthetics do not count so she can leave an ugly tree as long as she does not kill it. Your neighbor can ask you to reimburse her for the cost of trimming the branches, but you are under no legal obligation to pay. (One caveat: you do not say where you live and it is possible that there may be a local law that supersedes most state laws. Therefore, you may want to check with your Town Hall to see if any local laws apply.) You can read here to learn more about receiving notice that a tree poses a hazard.
If the expert says that the tree does pose a threat, then you have an obligation to trim the tree. Failing to act could constitute negligence. If you know the branches are a hazard and you do not remove them, you could be held liable for any damage or injuries the falling branches cause. If you do not act, your neighbor may have grounds to take you to court and the court could order you to trim the tree.
It would be better for all parties involved if you could meet, discuss the issue and come to a negotiated agreement. Perhaps you could agree in advance to follow the recommendation of an arborist. Perhaps you could reach a compromise where you did some trimming or contributed to the trimming. Some towns offer mediation services to resolve neighbor disputes; you might want to contact your town to see if they offer such services.
If you want to learn more, you can read here about what to do if a neighbor complains about your tree.