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Can I cut a neighbor's tree?

Q: Can I cut branches off a tree that are in my yard if the trunk of the tree is in a neighbor's yard?

Technically he owns the tree but the branches affect my property.

A: I am not a lawyer, and cannot advise you as such. Having made this disclaimer, I can give you an overview of how the law tends to work, but recommend that you contact your attorney to back it up.

You are allowed to prune branches that extend past the property line and over your property, but only to the property line itself, and only if, by doing so, this pruning will not harm the tree.

You are not allowed to enter the neighbor's property (which means entering their tree, too) without their permission, so the pruning must be done all from your property.

If the branches are too high up to reach either from the ground or from an aerial lift truck on your property and it's necessary to climb the neighbor's tree to do the pruning, you DEFINITELY have to have their permission, to remain within the law.

Pruning just to the property line rarely results in a good pruning cut (from the tree's standpoint), so I always recommend that the neighbors get together to discuss the situation.

It is always better to remove a branch back to the collar at its base, and rarely is this collar exactly at the property line. If you cut a branch just to the property line the result is almost always a stub, which isn't desirable, and possibly harmful.

If the tree is damaging your property (i.e., hitting your roof and damaging the shingles), you are entitled to self-help, but you may need to have your attorney contact the neighbors if they're less than cooperative.

Most neighbors are friendly about these things, so I would imagine just talking with them will work out fine.

So, the best thing to do is speak with the neighbor and come to a joint decision.

Ideally, have a qualified arborist present at the time to offer his/her helpful input on how they would go about both accomplishing your objective and making proper pruning cuts for the tree's sake at the same time.

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Tom Mugridge

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