Neighbor Tree Issues

Unfortunately, conflicts between neighbors over private trees are a frequent occurrence. Neither the City nor Canopy mediates these conflicts.

If a neighbor’s tree is bothering you, first read “Neighbor Law” (Cora Jordan, Nolo Press, 1994), available at Kepler’s Books  and most library branches. It not only describes the law, but why and how you should try hard to settle your dispute out of court.

To keep the peace, try to avoid taking a neighbor to court, even Small Claims Court. Similarly, don’t damage your neighbor’s tree; doing so may turn a minor tree problem into a major liability problem.

If all else fails, the City of Palo Alto has a mediation program to act as a third party in helping residents with property disputes. Call 650-856-4062, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM.
                                                                              

  1. My neighbor has a non-protected tree that overhangs my yard. What can I do about this?
  2. My neighbor has a protected tree that overhangs my yard. What can I do about this?
  3. My neighbor’s tree is damaging my property. What can I do?
  4. Who would pay if I had a professional trim a neighbor’s tree?
  5. There is a tree growing on our property line with a neighbor. Whose tree is it, and who is responsible for that tree if it causes problems?

1. My neighbor has a non-protected tree that overhangs my yard. What can I do about this?

The City authority does not address trees that are not ‘regulated’, such as pines, elms, magnolias etc., when they are on private single family zoned property. Therefore, you are entitled to trim branches in any manner you deem necessary on your side of the property line, providing that substantiated damage does not occur to the tree (to which you may be held liable), as provided per California case law. The City will play no role in this scenario. We suggest that you contact your neighbor and find some resolution to agree upon.

2. My neighbor has a protected tree that overhangs my yard. What can I do about this?

We suggest that you contact your neighbor and find some resolution to agree upon. The same City regulations apply and include limitations to pruning to keep the tree growing and healthy. For example, cutting more than 25% of the leaf area, topping and side cutting to unbalance the tree would constitute violations and the City would become involved by code enforcement.

3. My neighbor’s tree is damaging my property. What can I do?

We suggest that you contact your neighbor and find some resolution to agree upon. The City does not mediate any disputes between neighbors on private tree matters.

4. Who would pay if I had a professional trim a neighbor’s tree?

A tree owner is not obligated to maintain (or pay for trimming) a tree overhanging another’s property. Maintenance of a tree is entirely left to whatever the neighbors can work out.

5. There is a tree growing on our property line with the neighbor. Whose tree is it, and who is responsible for that tree if it causes problems?

You are both owners of the tree when the trunk straddles the property line. Whether it started as a young tree on your or your neighbor’s property, it now belongs to the both of you. The City Arborist’s office has seen that in the vast majority of cases, friendly communication is the best solution to mutually-owned tree issues.

If all else fails the City of Palo Alto has a mediation program to act as a third party in helping residents with property disputes. Call 650-856-4062, Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm.

People walk and jog more on shady streets, improving the sense of community as they stop and greet their neighbors.