Can I Trim or Cut Down My Neighbor’s Tree or Remove Invasive Roots?

“My neighbor has a large burr oak which is dropping acorns all over my property. Can I cut down the branches that are hanging over the property line?”

“The next door neighbor’s tree has a large limb that is hanging over the roof of my house. Can I force him to have the tree removed?”

“The roots of my neighbor’s large Cyprus tree has grown into my yard. I’ve tripped over the knees popping up out the ground. And I think the roots might eventually damage the patio. Can I poison the roots or have them cut out?”

Certified arborist pruning a tree.

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

At Tree Shepherds, we often receive questions like those above. Encroaching tree branches or roots from a neighboring property is a common situation in Denton County. Older trees on narrow plots can present particular challenges. Branches and roots grow irrespective of who owns the surrounding properties. Knowing your responsibility and rights as a property owner is important to being a good neighbor and to avoiding unnecessary fines and court costs.

Talk to Your Neighbor First

Before you do anything to your neighbor’s encroaching tree branches or roots, have a conversation with your neighbor. Seek out a solution that seems best for you both. Also, familiarize yourself with the local ordinances regarding tree preservation and property rights. Failure to obey local ordinances can be costly—more so than one might think.

If the branches or roots cross your property line do you have the right to cut it?

Texas Attorney, Cleve Clinton, advises, “When trees growing entirely on one owner’s land invade another’s property, the neighbor may either cut the limbs or roots at the property line.”

However, trimming your neighbor’s overhanging branches must be done carefully. Taking a chainsaw to the branches at the property line is not recommended, and it could cost you. As Clinton goes on to state in his post on the legality of trimming your neighbor’s tree, you cannot trim limbs in such a way that might cause “immediate and irreparable harm.”

If you damage a neighbor’s tree, you might be liable for two to three times the value of a tree. A homeowner was forced to pay over $40,000 to his neighbor for damage done to his neighbor’s tree by an unlicensed laborer he had hired to trim to his property line.

Can I or a hired laborer cross a property line to complete a trimming job?

Property lines cannot be crossed without the owner’s permission. Doing so may be considered trespassing. This goes for any lawn care, landscaping or arboriculture crews that might be hired to trim a neighbor’s tree branches to the property line. If you or anyone you hire needs to cross the property line to complete a job, talk to your neighbor first.

Who is responsible for trees located on a property line?

A tree with its trunk situated on the property line is owned by both of the property owners. In the case of a tree removal this is especially important to know. Both property owners must agree to the tree’s removal. Consult with an attorney if you cannot reach an agreement with your neighbor.

Is my neighbor required to pay for the trimming of his/her encroaching tree branches or roots?

No. Whomever hires the arborist or landscaping company to trim the tree is responsible for paying the expenses.

What if an overhanging tree limb is threatening to do immediate harm to my home or property?

If a tree or any of its overhanging limbs appear cracked or decayed and present an immediate threat to your property, it is best to speak to your neighbor immediately. They might not be aware of the tree’s condition.

If your neighbor fails to act, or perhaps does not have the means to act, consult with a certified arborist before you do anything. Removing or trimming damaged tree limbs can be dangerous.

Who is responsible to clean up or pay for a fallen tree or its branches a storm?

“With respect to falling branches or a tree on [a neighbor’s] property – or perhaps even root invasion, any court will likely apply a reasonable care standard,” writes Texas attorney, Cleve Clinton. In other words, your neighbor cannot be held accountable for damages caused by a storm. This can be unfortunate in cases. For example, if a 90 mph gust breaks that otherwise healthy 3,000 lbs. tree limb hanging over your house, then your neighbor will more than likely not be responsible for damages.

Can I insert poison into the ground to kill the roots of my neighbor’s tree?

No. Poisoning your neighbor’s tree roots, even when they are well within your property line, can destroy the whole tree. If you destroy your neighbor’s tree, you could be held liable for the value of tree or more. In the case of Withdraw v. Armstrong, 2006, a Texas court awarded a tree owner $5,000 in damages for the destruction of his tree. His neighbor had injected poison into the encroaching tree roots that were causing damage to his property.

Even if your patio or foundation is being damaged by encroaching roots from your neighbor’s tree, great discretion is advised. Talk to a local certified arborist who knows the law or speak with an attorney. “The courts exercise wide discretion in dealing with encroachment cases, taking into account factors addressing the principles of reasonableness and fairness for both parties.”

Photos credits: John Ramspott on Flickr, CC 2.0.

Krista White

Krista White

Krista is a member of the marketing and education team at Tree Shepherds. A lifelong learner, she loves writing about anything from Hemingway to Quercus macrocarpa.