When a tree begins to grow over a neighbor's property line, she may wonder if she has the legal right to cut it. Under most circumstances she does, but only if she follows certain rules and regulations. Different cities have their own ordinances on the matter.
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Although different states have different laws addressing the issue, most states allow neighbors to trim the portion of a tree that has grown onto their property. In Maryland, for example, neighbors may trim encroaching portions of a tree back to the property line, but no further.
Even though neighbors have the right to trim portions of an encroaching tree, they may not damage the tree in the process. Under Florida law, if the trimming causes damage to the tree, the trimmer will have to compensate the owner for the damages done.
Disputes often arise over which neighbor has legal ownership of a tree, and therefore the right to trim it. Under California Civil Code Section 833, the location of the trunk determines the owner of the tree. Section 834 of the California Code states that if the trunk rests on the property line, then both neighbors have equal ownership of it. However, neither neighbor may cross into the others property to trim the tree without consent.