What are your options when a neighbor cuts or kills your tree?

In a perfect world, neighbors would always peacefully resolve their disputes. In the real world, however, things between neighbors can take a nasty turn with little provocation. Previously genial neighbors can become cold and passive-aggressive over minor things like the placement of a garbage bin or someone forgetting to mow their grass. Many times, the dispute that causes a neighborly rift may be over a tree.

Chances are, the trees on your property were part of your reason for buying it. Either you planted them, or you value them for their beauty and the shade they provide. Over the years, though, their branches could spread and overshadow the property line or even part of your neighbor's yard. If they asked you to cut it down or trim it, and you refused, they may take matters in their own hands. Amateur trimming can sometimes lead to the death of a valuable tree. If your neighbor has illegally cut or killed a tree on your property, speaking with an attorney is a wise first step.

Is it legal for your neighbor to trim your tree?

This is a complex question. If the tree's trunk is growing on the property line, they may have the legal ability to trim a substantial portion of the branches. If the trunk is clearly on your property, however, the most they can legally do (without your permission) is trim branches that hang over their property from their side of the property line. If they cut down or otherwise intentionally kill a tree on your property without your permission, they have unquestionably acted unlawfully. If you are unclear about whether your neighbor has done something actionable, an experienced real estate attorney can help.

How an attorney can help if your neighbor damages your tree

Your neighbor may be financially liable if he or she trims or cuts your tree and thereby damages or reduces your property value. An attorney can review the details of your situation and determine what legal recourse may be available in your situation. While it can seem cold to take your neighbor to court over a dispute about a tree, the truth is that trees, particularly fully grown trees, contribute substantially to the value of your property. Trees can also help reduce your cooling costs in the summer with the shade they provide. You may experience an increase in utility expenses after the loss of a tree on your property.

No matter how irritated you are with a tree that blocks your view or drops leaves on your property, damaging or killing the tree without the owner's consent is never the answer. In some cases, your neighbor's homeowner's insurance may cover the loss. In others, it could turn out to be a very costly lesson in being a good neighbor for the person who cut or killed your tree.