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Studies have shown that trees help reduce summer cooling costs, increase the value of a property when it is sold and actually reduce the amount of crime in a neighborhood. But despite their beauty and secondary benefits, trees can also become contentious points of debate among neighbors.

The branches of my neighbor's mulberry tree hang into my yard. I have asked her to trim it, but the tree is still hanging into my yard. Can I go into her yard and trim the tree myself?

No. You can trim the tree's branches up to the property line, but you cannot go onto your neighbor's property to trim the tree.

My neighbor and I have argued about my apple tree for years. I have trimmed the branches that overhang his property, but he still complains. {c1}Yesterday, I found him on my property cutting down the tree. What should I do?

This is a clear-cut case of trespass and deliberate damage (or destruction, in this case) to a tree. Do the following things:

  • Call the police to file a report about the incident.
  • Ask your neighbor for monetary damages; most states require that a person who deliberately harms a tree pay the owner two to three times the actual monetary loss.
  • If your neighbor is unwilling to pay the damages, take him to small claims court to recover your damages.

My neighbor has a towering oak tree on her property. It is dying and keeps dropping branches. I am worried that it will fall on my house during the next bad storm. What can I do?

Trimming the branches that hang onto your property probably will not save your house if the tree falls, so you should talk to your neighbor about the tree and see if he or she is willing to address the problem. If this does not work, do the following:

  • Contact your local city or town government to see if it can make the owner take care of the tree. The city may ask your neighbor to remove or trim the tree, assess a fine if the neighbor does not comply, or, in some instances, remove the tree itself. You might also consider contacting your utility company if there is a risk of the tree damaging its transmission lines or other infrastructure.
  • If the city is unable to help you, you can sue your neighbor to remove or prune the tree. Since you are not seeking monetary damages but a court order to prune or cut down the tree, you will need to sue your neighbor in regular court.

TIP: Be prepared to present proof (photos or testimony from an arborist) that the tree is a nuisance.

Most of my favorite peach tree hangs into my neighbor's yard, but the trunk is completely on my property. My new neighbor says the tree is his. I disagree. Who is in the right?

You own the tree. If the tree's trunk was also on your neighbor's property, you would both own it and be responsible for its upkeep. In that instance, neither of you would be able to remove it without the other's permission.