What to do if a Neighbor’s Tree is Endangering Your Yard

Tree fell in yard and was cut up and left

Trees are beautiful in the landscape, but they also can cause tension between neighbors. When your neighbor’s hazardous tree has you worried for your safety or your property, there are steps you can take to help resolve the situation. 

The first tip is to maintain a calm and friendly attitude. If your neighbor refuses to cooperate, you may want to consider taking legal action. 

Not so much worried about a dangerous tree, but rather, curious if you can trim back tree branches? We have the answers for that, too. 

If you’re worried your neighbor’s tree will fall on your property in the next storm, here’s what you can do: 

Step 1: Talk face-to-face

If your neighbor’s hazardous or dead tree is making you feel uneasy, the one thing you can’t do is march next door and cut down the tree. It’s against the law, even if you don’t trespass on your neighbor’s property. If most of the tree branches are on your side of the fence, but the tree trunk is in the neighbor’s yard, then your neighbor is the owner of the tree, and it’s not for you to cut down. 

The best approach is to talk to your neighbor face-to-face. Tell your neighbor what your concerns are and explain why the tree may need removal. Signs a tree needs removal include a significant lean, hollow trunk, and visible wounds. 

If you’re more concerned about overhanging branches than a dangerous tree, you have the right to trim branches up to the property line. But you might want to talk to your neighbor about the branches before you start pruning. Here’s why: 

  • If you happen to harm the tree while trimming, your neighbor has the right to sue you for damages. You may have to pay up to three times the value of the tree.
  • Your neighbor might want to preserve the structural integrity of their tree. They might prefer to hire a professional tree service or want to trim the tree themselves. 

Remember: If your neighbor is a renter, you’ll need to contact the property owner about your concerns. 

Step 2: Request a tree inspection

After telling your neighbor what your concerns are, ask them to hire a certified arborist for a tree inspection and to follow through with any recommendations that the arborist might have (such as tree removal). 

For peace of mind, ask your neighbor if you can be present for the inspection. If you’re unable to attend the inspection, write down any questions you may have for the arborist. You also can request a note from the arborist with details about the inspection. 

Since the tree doesn’t belong to you, it’s not your responsibility to pay for the inspection. But if you’d like to make the inspection more convenient for your neighbor, you can certainly offer to pay for the inspection or share the expense. 

If your neighbor is happy to comply and ends up removing the tree, your job is done. But if your neighbor refuses to hire an arborist or refuses to follow an arborist’s removal recommendation, move on to the next step. 

Step 3: Write a letter

A tree that inhibits your ability to enjoy your property may be a violation of the law. If your neighbor refuses to cooperate after speaking in person, write them a letter (or email) detailing your concerns and any legal action you may take if the tree damages your property or harms someone. 

A letter like this is usually enough to get a neighbor to act. You can learn about local tree rules by checking local ordinances or contacting your homeowners’ association. 

Remember to save a copy of the letter for your records. Why? Because if the tree does damage your home, you can prove the tree was in a dangerous condition and that your neighbor was negligent. Had your neighbor taken good care of a fallen tree, the damage would be considered an Act of God, and your neighbor wouldn’t be held responsible.

If your letter doesn’t prompt your neighbor to remove the tree, you may want to consult a lawyer. Learn what your rights are and what steps you can take to protect yourself. 

“If the tree interferes with the use and enjoyment of your property, you may be able to file a nuisance claim with the court” says Ben Michael, an attorney in Austin, TX. “If the court deems the tree a nuisance, it can order your neighbor to remove the tree.”

Step 5: Document damage

If worse comes to worst and the neighbor’s tree falls on your property, you’ll want to take pictures of the damage. You’ll also want detailed pictures of the neighbor’s tree and where it sits compared to your property. 

As you take pictures, remember to stay on your property. If your neighbor has ignored your requests for this long, chances are good that the two of you aren’t on great terms. Don’t let them catch you taking photos on their property (you don’t want them calling the cops). 

You can use these photos as evidence when holding your neighbor responsible for the property damage. Contact your homeowners insurance company to learn more about your next steps. 

Let’s hope you don’t have to take this last step. If all goes well, your neighbor will kindly respond to your initial request to inspect the tree. 

Be a good neighbor in return

You expect your neighbor to maintain healthy trees, and they likely expect the same from you. Hire a certified arborist who can inspect your trees and treat them if necessary. Avoid hiring people who are self-proclaimed tree care experts. Hiring someone without insurance or the appropriate certification could increase the risk of costly damages, severe injury, and death. 

Another way you can show your neighbors that you care about the community’s maintenance is by caring for your lawn. For pristine lawn care without the hassle, hire a local lawn care professional. From mowing the lawn to aerating the soil, a lawn care pro helps you be a better neighbor. 

Main Photo Credit: dani0010 | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.