5. Does a neighbor have the right to prune back the branches of someone else’s tree that hang over his property?

What the neighbor can do about overhanging branches of someone else’s tree? If the tree owner refuses to do anything, the neighbor still can take some action himself.

AxIn general, if the neighbor doesn’t want those branches hanging over his property, he can trim them away at his own expense.

Reasoning: The reason behind this principle is the idea that the airspace above the neighbor’s land belongs to the neighbor. The tree owner’s branches have entered into the neighbor’s airspace without the neighbor’s permission, and so in most jurisdictions, the neighbor has the right to remove that part of the branch. Of course, some jurisdictions may have different rules, and in general it’s a good idea for a neighbor to check local laws and to confer with his neighbor before doing any pruning away of branches.

This is especially true because pruning branches may injure or kill a tree. While a neighbor generally has the right to prune away a tree branch that intrudes onto his property, he does not have the right to kill the tree. After all, he does not own the tree.

For neighbors who want to remove tree branches, this can create a difficult decision. On the one hand, they have the right to cut the branches back to the property line. But if they kill the tree by cutting too many of its branches, then they may be liable to the tree owner even though they had the right to cut the branches.

Example: Tom owns a tree near the property line, and the branches hang over Sally’s vegetable garden. Sally asks Tom to cut the branches back, and Tom refuses. In many states, Sally can go out with a saw herself and cut back the part of the branches that are over her property. Any branch on her side of the property line is something she can cut away. She can’t get Tom to pay for her tree-trimming work, but he can’t stop her from doing it.

Quiz: In the quiz for subsection 3 above, we saw Eddie (who owns a mulberry tree) and Fanny (who doesn’t like mulberries dropping on her lawn). Fanny asked the judge to make Eddie come and clean up her lawn after Eddie’s mulberries dropped on it, and the judge refused to order Eddie to do this. Fanny decides to take action herself. She buys a ladder and a saw and cuts off the overhanging branches just where the fence marks the division between her yard and Eddie’s yard. Eddie is upset when he sees his beautiful mulberry tree branching out in a lopsided way over his land. If Eddie sues Fanny for the loss of his mulberry tree branches, who is likely to win —

Eddie or Fanny? And why?

Fanny is the likely winner in this lawsuit. She has the right to remove Eddie’s tree branches that overhang her property.