Before You Cut Your Neighbor’s Tree

It is a common occurrence: You look out your window and all you see is your neighbor’s tree dropping branches and nuts and bark all over your yard. Or, you can’t see anything at all because of that tree. Or, you are certain that large branches of that tree will eventually fall onto your garage. Before you take the chain saw into your own hands and cut off the offending limbs, you will want to know some tidbits to keep you out of “neighbor jail” – and possibly real jail.

Does a tree’s limbs or trunk crossing the property line give you the right to prune it?
Yes? No? Both Yes and No? It all depends on where you live. Check with your town, city, county and state municipalities for regulations about trees and property lines. In some areas, you are entitled to prune the parts of a tree overhanging your yard as long as the work does not damage the tree.
But why don’t you first ask your neighbor if he, she or they mind if you go ahead and have it pruned? They might actually appreciate it.

Should I just cut it straight up over the property line?
While that might seem to be a good way to shear a boundary hedge, large trees rarely respond well to inter-nodal (random) pruning cuts on their branches. This type of indiscriminate pruning invites diseases and insect pests that could eventually kill the tree entirely. Then you’re at risk of not only non-compliance to a municipal ordinance (see above), but to the ill-feelings this action will certainly develop in your neighbor.

How about if I just have my lawn person cut the tree back?
If you have your heart set on cutting back your neighbor’s overhanging tree branches, your best bet would be to have a qualified tree care provider perform the work. Tree care providers who are members of professional associations, are insured and who have certified personnel performing the work will know the local laws regarding which types of trees can be cut, and to what extent. Plus, they have the right equipment and training to perform the work correctly and safely. Finally, if your neighbor does have concerns, having it done by a professional might put them more at ease.

Steps to take

  1. Find out who actually owns the tree and where the property line is. Can you be certain that, just because it appears to be on your side of the fence, the fence is on the actual property line? How many times has that fence line been moved? If the tree is large and mature or particularly valuable, you would benefit from having the property surveyed to make certain of ownership.
  2. Have a qualified tree care provider write up work specifications on exactly how the tree should be cut back. It is usually a bit more complex than simply stating, “cut limbs back to property line.” The work order must reference the ANSI A300 tree pruning standards to assure the procedures being proposed take into consideration the tree’s future health. Oh, and check to see that your tree care provider has a copy of their current liability insurance policy on hand. Check their references as well – why not?
  3. This is probably the most important step when dealing with trees on a property line: If at all possible, get the tree owner’s written consent to the work being prescribed. Cutting a neighbor’s trees without that neighbor’s knowledge or consent will only lead to un-neighborly disputes that might lead you to court. If the pruning makes a drastic difference in the tree’s appearance or health or your tree care provider needs to access your neighbor’s property, the tree owner must be made aware of this action and sign off on it. Ignoring this step, or telling your tree care professional to “go ahead, it’s OK,” is actually not OK.

Hire a tree care professional

The best advice is to hire a tree care professional with the experience, expertise and equipment to assess and safely prune, remove or otherwise care for your or your neighbors’ trees. Search for a tree care provider in your area.

8 thoughts on “Before You Cut Your Neighbor’s Tree

  • March 17, 2018 at 1:50 am

    Thanks for this useful article and advice. I have just this issue and have been troubled by how to deal with it as I don’t want to cause problems with the family next door. The article has provided me with an insight to contact a tree care provider who could put together an unbiased and equitable proposal for consideration. Hopefully coming from an independent 3rd party will help. Thanks again.

  • March 28, 2018 at 7:51 am

    While mentioned in the article, whatever happen to good old fashion neighborly communication – just talk to you neighbor about the situation.

  • April 11, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks for the great advice on what to consider before possibly cutting your neighbors tree. Although it can seem completely okay to cut someone else’s tree if it’s hanging over your property line, it’s still best to ask before doing so.

  • February 19, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    great informative article! whenever I or a family member is handling a chainsaw it is imperative to follow these safety tips. resourceful article about the cutting of urban wood trees from a forest with the use of automatic machinery and self driving vehicles provided by the tree timing companies to eliminate a tree from a forest easily according to the rules and regulations of a country,otherwise you have face some kind of problems related to the violation of country rules and regulations due to the lose of capital from a inexperience labor of tree trimming .

  • March 29, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    Good information and I am going to definitely share it with my clients. We have been called on a number of occasions to prune a tree only to be told that the client actually does not own the tree, however, would like it trimmed back because it is encroaching on their property over the fence.

    Too often, in today’s busy hustle and bustle, neighbours do not have the time to communicate with each other. Instead, they make arbitrary decisions to go ahead and modify the tree branches without understanding the consequences to the tree. We have had to intervene in a few arguments between neighbors and bring some common sense to the table.

    Brian – Manager
    Whitby Tree Service

  • April 26, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    As a professional tree service company we don’t mind letting the neighbors know what has to be done. Sometimes it helps to have a professional inform them.

  • April 26, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Sometimes it helps to just have a talk and inform them of what has to be done.

  • June 5, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Just happened to find this article today. There is a lot of great stuff in here and especially loved how you got to the point that a professional should be cutting a tree. Looking forward to reading more of your articles.


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