Rules on Cutting Your Neighbor's Tree and Killing It

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Neighbors may encounter all sorts of disputes, including when they can and cannot legally cut a tree down that has become a nuisance to them. While there are times when you can legally trim your neighbor's tree, the law doesn't protect you if you kill the tree in the process. Knowing your legal rights -- and making sure your neighbor knows his -- can help settle tree-related disputes before they start.

Cutting With Caution

  • If your neighbor's tree has begun to grow beyond her property line and onto your private property, you have the legal right to trim it back. However, you must exercise caution while doing so. The tree cannot be trimmed past the dividing line of the two properties, meaning you cannot legally trim any portion of the tree that is on your neighbor's land. If you trim the tree legally and cause damage to it, you will be held liable since technically you have destroyed property that is not yours. If you enter your neighbor's property to trim the tree and cause damage to it, you will be held liable for all damages and can be charged with trespassing.

The Cost of Damage

  • If you damage your neighbor's tree while attempting to either legally or illegally cut it, the fine can be steep. Courts can fine you up to a maximum of three times the value of the tree. The value of a tree depends on the type of tree it is and how it is classified. For example, if you cut and damage a tree that has been designated either an ornamental or landmark tree, you can face a fine of up to $60,000 according to FindLaw.com. If possible, try to work the situation out with your neighbor outside of a courtroom and offer to replace the tree. This can save you both time and money.

Reasons To Cut

  • Before you decide to cut your neighbor's tree, make sure you have a legal right to do so. Limbs that hang over the property line are considered a nuisance and therefore can be trimmed back. However, you cannot cut -- or legally request -- your neighbor to cut his tree simply because leaves from it are blowing onto your property. If leaves blow into your gutters and cause a clog, you still do not have a nuisance claim. Leaves are classified as natural products; and if they fall onto a piece of land, the landowner has the responsibility of cleaning them up, not the owner of the tree.

Killing The Tree

  • If you are concerned that a neighbor's tree is going to fall and cause damage to your property, alert your neighbor to see if she will remove the tree. If she refuses, contact an arborist to examine the tree. If the arborist determines that the tree should be removed, make your neighbor aware of this. Your neighbor will now have concrete evidence that her tree is a liability. Your neighbor can either contact her homeowner's insurance company -- which will request she remove the tree -- or ignore the situation altogether. If she ignores the situation and the tree causes damage, she could possibly void the terms of her insurance policy.

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