Tree roots, just like branches, can cross a property line. While the law asks the same questions regarding tree roots as it does with tree branches, a court may struggle more in reaching an answer because of the natural differences between roots and branches. Removing part of a tree root is more likely to injure the tree than removing part of a branch. While courts generally allow neighbors to remove the part of the tree that enters their property without their permission, courts generally do not give permission to neighbors to kill a tree they don’t own. So although the general principle of law is the same (neighbors can remove offending parts of a tree on their property, so long as they do not kill or seriously damage the tree), a neighbor who decides to remove tree roots is more likely to cause serious damage to the tree.
This is where the rights of both the tree owner and the neighbor are delicately balanced and it’s not easy to determine whose rights should take priority. Courts struggle to decide whether the tree owner gets to keep his tree alive, even though it encroaches on his neighbor’s property, or whether the neighbor has the right to do something that will kill a tree he doesn’t own.