Trees are a lovely thing -- until they become intrusive or hazardous. If you have a dead tree on your property, cutting it down could be a smart move. That way, you don't run the risk of it falling and wrecking your property, or worse yet, hurting someone.
But what if your neighbor has a tree that's impacting your property -- say, a dead one that could fall and shatter your fence at any time, or a thriving one that perpetually scatters leaves and debris into your yard? What can you do?
1. Talk things out first
You can't march into your neighbor's yard and cut down a tree that isn't yours. But what you can do is express concern that his or her tree is at risk of damaging your property the next time a big storm rolls around. Your neighbor may agree to take it down. Or, if you're really worried, you can offer to split the cost of removing that tree with your neighbor. Though you may not want to go that route, as the tree is technically not your responsibility, sharing in that cost could spare you a world of hassle.
If your neighbor refuses to budge and insists on leaving the tree in place, express your concerns in writing via email or a certified letter. That way, if that tree does damage your property, you can prove that your neighbor may have been negligent by not taking it down.
Now if the tree in question isn't dangerous, but just needs a major trimming to avoid hanging into your yard or scattering leaves everywhere, that's a slightly different conversation. In that case, you might ask permission to just do the work yourself, if you're willing.
2. Report your neighbor to your local government office
A tree that poses a danger to your property, or one that inhibits your ability to enjoy your property, may actually constitute a violation of local ordinances or codes. If your attempts to get your neighbor to fix the problem at hand aren't successful, make some calls and see what your rights are. You can start with your town building or planning board. Your neighbor may wind up in a situation where he or she is compelled to address the problem or otherwise face serious fines.
If your home is part of a homeowners association, check its rules about trees and their associated maintenance. And if you have concerns, talk to your HOA board to see what rights you have.
3. Document all damage caused by that tree
In most states, if a tree falls during a severe storm and damages another property, the tree's owner isn't liable. But if that happens in your case, and you can prove that you warned your neighbor about that hazard and no action was taken, he or she may be liable for the damage that tree caused. Document the damage and then call your homeowners insurance company to ask for guidance.
Trees can be a huge source of contention between neighbors, but as a property owner, you do have certain rights. If your neighbor refuses to do the right thing and address the issue at hand, don't hesitate to explore those rights by contacting your local government office, HOA board, or even an attorney if you feel the situation warrants it.