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Neighbor disputes over boundary trees

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2023 | Real Estate Law

Disputes between neighbors in California and around the country often become contentious, and many of them involve trees. Trees are often planted along property lines to make residential developments look more appealing to potential buyers, which often leads to confusion over which property owner actually owns the trees and is responsible for taking care of them. As a general rule, the owner of the property where the trunk is located owns the tree. However, things get more complex when the branches of boundary trees extend onto adjacent properties.


The law permits neighbors to trim the branches of neighboring trees that extend onto their property. However, they would be wise to hire a professional to complete this task as they can be held responsible if their pruning efforts damage or kill the tree. If a property owner initiates real estate litigation because a tree was damaged or killed by excessive or incompetent pruning, they can be awarded as much as three times the tree’s replacement cost.

Nuts, fruit and property damage

While neighbors are permitted to trim the branches of trees that extend onto their properties, they cannot pick fruit or nuts from them. They may, however, collect fruit and nuts that fall into their gardens. Property owners are not usually legally responsible for the damage caused by boundary trees that are blown over in strong storms. These are considered acts of God, but a lawsuit could be successful if the tree was dead or diseased and the property owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it from falling.

Reasonable care

Most neighbor disputes involving trees may be avoided if homeowners take reasonable care. Neighbors can trim branches that overhang their properties, but they can be sued if they fail to act responsibly and cause harm. Homeowners are generally not legally responsible for the damaged caused by falling trees, but they could be if the tree was likely to fall and they took inadequate steps to protect their neighbors.