Fixing Tree Problems from a Neighbor's Property

We spend lots of time creating blog posts and newsletters about how to take care of your own trees. But, what’s the process when the problem – dead or dangling branches, diseases, or even pests – are emanating from a neighboring property?

This can be a sticky situation. However, we assure you that after decades in the tree doctoring business, the large majority of our clients are able to work it out with their neighbors – even the “sticky” ones.

Can I Prune, Cut or Treat a Tree That Isn’t On My Property?

Throughout the year, we receive calls from clients who are worried about a tree on their neighbor’s property. We’re always happy to come out and perform a tree inspection.

Regardless of whether the tree is in good health, great health or totally poor health, the state of Pennsylvania says that any part of a tree that hangs over your property line is yours to take care of however you see fit.

This can be a good thing – and a bad thing.

The good thing is that you have the right to prune or remove any questionable limbs or branches that hang over your property line. However, if your neighbor is not willing to cooperate, the expense will be borne by you. If a disease or pests are an issue, this is also tricky because treating only a section of the tree won’t be effective; we need to treat the whole tree and that can be a challenge if a neighbor isn’t cooperative.

Tips for Dealing With a Problem Tree on Neighboring Property

Here are our suggestions for dealing with a problem tree that’s planted on a neighbor’s property.

  1. Review your property deed. First, make sure the tree parts you’re planning to deal with are truly on your side of the property line, keeping in mind that fences don’t mean much. Review your property deed to verify exactly where your property lines are located. Fences are often built further on one side or the other and that can become an issue - - if there’s an issue.
  2. Talk to your neighbor. Of course, open communication and a friendly conversation should always be the next step in the process. If you feel more comfortable with a little professional information on your side, contact a certified arborist to evaluate the situation. We can write a letter, complete with our findings and recommendations, on professional letterhead so you can show it to your neighbor as proof of your concern(s).
  3. Plan first, then cut. Never ever do serious pruning or cutting without a plan. If your neighbor isn’t cooperative when it comes to treating the problem – or paying for the recommended procedure(s) – you want to create a plan so everyone is safe. I’m always happy to talk to the owner of the tree about my recommendations and we can also discuss staged-treatment plans if that’s an option. This is the best way to proceed in situations where neighbors have a strained or tense relationship. In almost all cases, I have been able to get the tree’s owner to take full or partial responsibility for what needs to be done.
  4. Never cut without communicating. You might be wondering, “why do I have to communicate at all if the tree parts on my property are mine to cut, eliminate or treat?” Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that if you don’t cut or prune the tree just right, you could significantly or even permanently damage the tree. In that case, you would be legally liable for the tree - and the value of a mature, hardwood tree can knock your socks off if it becomes an issue in court. Secondly, you put your safety as well as your neighbors’ safety at risk. Even if you make a successful cut and all seems well, long-term damage can lead to a sick or dying tree that falls over or sheds other large limbs unexpectedly, and you don’t want to be responsible for that. Communicating with your neighbors – or having a licensed arborist communicate with them – is the best way to ensure a safe, happy and healthy end to the story.

While it’s common to have an “issue” with a neighbor tree encroaching or having a negative impact on your property, it’s NOT common to take matters into your own hands. Give Joshua Tree a call and we’ll be happy to help resolve things. 610-365-2200.

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