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Who is Responsible for Cutting Overhanging Tree Branches?

In Florida, trees provide shade from the brutal sun and they have great curb appeal.  Tree roots serve to hold the soil together and reduce erosion during heavy rains.  Trees can also provide a property with wind, sound, and privacy barriers, and provide wildlife habitat for creatures such as birds and squirrels.  However, the one thing trees can’t do is respect property boundaries.

You think your neighbor’s trees are beautiful, but what happens when the branches start to grow over your house or shed, which you believe to be a dangerous situation?  Also, what about the rotten fruit dropping in your yard?  In this article, we will discuss your options and who is responsible for cutting overhanging tree branches.

Is My Neighbor Responsible?

Florida law provides that landowners are not liable to others outside his/her land for nuisance caused by vegetation growing from their land over adjoining properties (Scott v McCarty Fla.4th DCA 2010).  In other words, your neighbor has no duty to remove or even trim the branches or roots that encroach past your property line. 

That doesn’t mean you have no recourse.  Any tree, root, branch, or other vegetation that grows over your land can be trimmed back by you (Gallo v Heller Fla.3rd DCA 1987) at your expense.  While this may not seem fair at first glance, the law seems to be based on common sense and public policy.  The courts seem to recognize that allowing claims against neighbor’s overgrowing trees would result in innumerable and vexatious lawsuits

Things to Consider

Keep in mind, that if you trim the branches from your neighbor’s tree that extend onto your property, and you damage or kill the tree, you may be responsible.  This is why it is wise to hire a professional tree service or an arborist for inspection before trimming a large branch.  Now, if the branches or roots are already dead, then it is your neighbor’s responsibility to remove them.  If they do not, and your home is damaged, your neighbor may be liable for your damages.

It is also worth noting that you cannot cut any portion of the tree on your neighbor’s property and it is unlawful to enter your neighbor’s property without their consent.

Please keep in mind, that Florida’s law of no duty or liability of a neighbor for overgrown trees is not the rule followed in all 50 states.  Please review the rules for the state that you live in for further guidance.  Even in Florida, it is best to review local municipal or county ordinances, if applicable.

Above all, it is always best to use common sense.  Sometimes, problems can be addressed with your tree or vegetation before it spreads out from your property.  Being a good neighbor can pay dividends in the long run.

Exceptions to the Rule

There have been cases in Florida that held a landowner responsible for the maintenance of trees and vegetation obstructing motorist’s view of stop signs.  The courts determined that overhanging vegetation which blocks traffic control devices presents an imminent danger and that a duty to remove vegetation of this type is common sense.

Trees on Property Lines

If a tree is genuinely on the boundary lot of two properties, it becomes the property of both landowners.  In this case, both owners are jointly responsible for its maintenance and cannot remove the tree without the other’s consent.

What if it Looks Like My Neighbor’s Tree Will Fall on My House?

If your neighbor’s tree looks dead and is leaning toward your house, you shouldn’t wait for the inevitable to happen.  The first course of action is to talk face-to-face with your neighbor.  Explain to them your concerns and why the tree may need removal.  If they don’t share your concerns or are undecided, ask them to hire a certified arborist for a tree inspection.  While it isn’t your responsibility to pay for the inspection, you can extend an olive branch by offering to pay for the inspection or share the expense.

If your neighbor agrees to the inspection, ask to be present or at least review the arborist’s findings.

If the neighbor refuses to get the tree inspected, it might be time to ask a lawyer to write a letter stating your concerns and reminding the neighbor that they may be liable if the tree damages your property.  Usually, this will be enough to prompt the neighbor to take action.

If the neighbor still refuses to take action, you may have a right to take legal action Your lawyer can advise you about your rights and what steps you can take to protect yourself and your property.

One Call Away

I’m Rob Robinson.  If you need advice about dangerous situations regarding trees or are having a neighbor dispute, please contact my office before the situation escalates.  I will guide you every step of the way in determining how to move through the steps of the legal process.

As a 5th-generation Floridian, I have practiced law here for more than 30 years.  I am also an avid outdoorsman and enjoy and appreciate the beauty and necessity of our trees.  However, on the few occasions when trees can present a problem or liability, I have the experience and skills necessary to be an effectual attorney for you.

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