Can You Make Your Neighbor Trim a Tree if it Hangs Over Onto Your Property by California Law?

Big trees on property lines cause problems.
Big trees on property lines cause problems. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

When your neighbor's tree overhangs your yard, don't go out on a limb. Although for decades California law permitted a neighbor to whack off roots and branches at the property line, a 1994 case smudged black and white case law into shades of gray.

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Former Law

For years, California landowners enjoyed an absolute right to cut encroaching tree branches at the boundary line or force their neighbors to do so. They relied on California Civil Code 829, which states that "[t]he owner of land in fee has the right to the surface and to everything permanently situated beneath or above it."

Booska v. Patel

The 1994 California case Booska v. Patel involved a property owner who sliced the roots of his neighbor's 40-year-old Monterey pine at the property line, rendering the tree unstable. The court rejected the position that the property owner had an absolute right to do so.

Expert Insight

Under Booska v. Patel, the right to remove -- or force your neighbor to remove -- infringing branches and roots is limited by the rule of reason. Randall Stamen, California attorney and arborist, recommends phoning your neighbor and finding a compromise.


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