You have probably heard the old idiom, “good fences make good neighbors.” Here at Freedman and Fazio, APC, we have our own idiom to share with you: “no one loves trees more than your neighbor after you’ve asked them to trim the one that hangs over your side fence.” It’s a clumsy phrase, but you get the point. Mr. Wilson’s bougainvillea has grown to monstrous proportions up and over your (now-buckling) fence. Lord only knows how many possums live in there and the shrubbery sheds constantly into your pool. You’ve nicely asked Mr. Wilson umpteen-thousand times to trim the thing but, he’s suddenly become the poster-child for the Sierra Club (despite his refusal to sort his recyclables) and will NEVER! harm his precious bougainvillea. As your pool pump chokes and sputters, you’re at your wits’ end. Well, hold off with the chainsaw, friend. There are a few things you should know about trees and neighbors.
California case law allows the owner of land encroached by a neighbor’s tree to “abate the nuisance” by cutting off the overhanging branches. When trimming, however, you must stay on your own property. This means you may not go into your neighbor’s yard for a better angle when cutting or destroy the tree. The duty to act reasonably tempers any right to remove a tree that presents a nuisance to adjoining property. Moreover, if you harm the tree, you could be found liable for up to three times the value (!) of the tree. Most trees have a replacement value between $500 and $2500, so it’s important to use extreme caution when trimming trees.
So, before going crazy with those hedge trimmers, you may wish to consider taking the following steps before doing any cutting: (1) consult with an arborist or other expert as to the condition of the tree; (2) document the extent of the encroachment by appropriate photographs and measurements; and (3) give the attorneys at Freedman and Fazio, APC a call.