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

Neighbor & Nuisance Disputes by Simon Offord, Esq.

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 Brewer Offord & Pedersen LLP at (650) 327-2900, or visit our website at www.BrewerFirm.com.

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