Get Your Tree Out of My Yard! An Overview of Neighbor’s Rights Relating to Roots and Branches

Simon Offord

by Simon Offord on October 3, 2011

in Neighbor Issues

In previous blog posts I have discussed some of the many areas of dispute that may arise between neighbors.  This article touches upon another one of those areas of dispute:  damage from neighboring trees.

If you share a property line with someone, chances are there are some overhanging branches or tree roots that cross into each others’ properties.  In most circumstances, a few roots or branches will not cause a rift between neighbors.  However, either because of bad blood between neighbors or due to the extent of the damage caused by the trees, a dispute may arise.

If a dispute does arise, the underlying question that must first be answered is: Who owns the tree? In order to determine this answer, you must simply look to the trunk.   A tree whose trunk stands entirely on one neighbor’s property belongs exclusively to the landowner whether or not its roots or branches extend into the land of the adjoining owner.  Once you have determined who owns the tree, you can then look to each neighbors’ rights relating to the roots and branches.

A common area of concern arises from the roots.  Roots can be very destructive, unsightly, and hazardous.  As a result, California law protects the affected neighbor.  Specifically, the law in California states that if roots encroach under or onto adjacent property, there is a trespass and the affected neighbor can the cut roots if they cause damage.

On the other end of the spectrum, branches can also be a significant issue.  Branches can also be hazardous and damage one’s property.  Branches that encroach on another’s land and cause or threaten damage may constitute a nuisance under California law.  The overhanging branches belong to the affected neighbor and he or she can cut them off or recover damages.  (Note, other issues with trees may arise regarding light and view easements, which is a topic for another day).

Before you consider using self-help to deal with issues relating to trees, it is important you understand when a neighbor is allowed to take action without permission of the Court or the owner of the tree.   Although this article does specify some of those situations in which self-help is allowed, there are other specific issues that must be considered before proceeding with taking action.  There are specific rules that apply depending on the distinct circumstances, and in most situations an attorney should be consulted before resorting to self-help.

If you have questions about this article, or anything else relating to real estate law, please contact the Law Offices of Peter N. Brewer at (650) 327-2900, or visit our website at

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Karylle Lynch October 13, 2011 at 8:31 am

Great and informative article! This is true. A simple tree can be a source of dispute or conflict in a neighborhood especially when it has the potential to cause harm or destruction. I hope that these things can be settled with civility and won’t have to escalate to multiple suits in against one another. Thanks for sharing this informative post!

avatar homes in east cobb ga October 22, 2011 at 10:04 am

Well, I guess, everything can be discussed properly regarding this issue. I know that trees are helpful especially in ecological balance, but there are some cases that it can also damage properties like what you have said. If things can’t be settled through negotiations, I think it’s time to find a law officer to clear everything. Great post!

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avatar Beth July 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Glad I found this. I am taking steps to get our neighbor to remove their tree that is diseased and collapsing the property line fence into our yard. She is dodging and refusing to speak to us about it entirely but initially admitted that she knew the tree was her responsibility to remove. I’m bookmarking this for when I ultimately have to take legal action against her…

avatar yolanda Villanueva September 4, 2014 at 12:50 pm

What is considered “if they cause damage”. Im talking about tree roots. My neighbors tree roots are killing my grass. Is that considered causing damage.

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