When looking to make changes to your property, it’s important to consider the implications it may have on your neighbors. Take a tree for example. You want to alter or remove a tree, that crosses both your, and your neighbor’s property line. Prior to making any alteration to the tree, even its just cutting a branch, you must remember that such actions may affect both parties.
In practice, it is commonly held that you can cut back branches and roots that cross the property line without seeking permission of the tree owner, but there may be legal complications. In all cases you must know the exact location of the boundary and the tree. If the base of the tree straddles the boundary line, then the tree is jointly owned and both owners must agree on what can or cannot be done to the tree beforehand. If the base of the tree is clearly on one side only, then it is only owned solely by that property owner. If you do not own the tree, then pruning beyond the boundary will be a trespass, with all the associated implications. Cutting overhanging branches may be a concern for tree health, but it does not present the same risk of liability that cutting the roots could create. If the roots or branches can be proved to be causing actual damage to your property, the justification for removing them will be strengthened.
Here are some considerations for removing branches / roots from a neighbor’s tree. If the tree is not on your property but you feel that the branches / roots growing onto or into your property are causing damage and create a nuisance, there are some common steps to consider:
- Have you confirmed your property line is correct? Do not rely on the location of the fence. Often these are not placed right on the property line. Have you checked title to ensure there are no restrictive covenants?
- Have you asked your neighbor (in writing) to trim back the overhanging branches or unwanted roots? Or have your communications been limited to making calls and email, have you tried sending anything by registered mail or courier?
- If you are unsure about the extent of tree roots, consider a more comprehensive investigation using an Air Spade. This allows for rapid removal of soil in order to expose roots or underground utilities for inspection and testing.
Tree roots are not always easy to locate. In general, cutting roots is best restricted to situations where the roots are clearly causing damage. Try and avoid anything that could compromise the health and stability of a tree.
When you contact the owner of the neighboring property, be sure to have the time, date, and people’s names written down, and ideally, have your request and their response in writing. Give the property owner sufficient opportunity to deal with the issue before taking further steps.
Make sure any work done is well planned, clearly documented and undertaken by a qualified arborist, to avoid liability later. Also, be sure to clearly explain what is required to the person doing the work.
The safest way to avoid potential fines or costs associated with tree damage is to involve a qualified arborist from start to finish. Retain all documentation and keep it organized so that any legal concerns can quickly be addressed before they proceed.
Dealing with shared property can be tricky, and its best to always make sure all parties have reached an understanding before making a move. Both to ensure that there will be no need for litigation, and that you will continue to at least have a functional relationship with your neighbors.