Neighbors & Trees & Yards
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Neighbors & Trees & Yards
Our neighbors are upset about a large ash tree in our back
yard. It was planted by the original owner about 30 years
ago; the neighbors have lived here since that time. The
tree is about 15 feet from the fence between the two
properties; it's about 31'' in diameter and at least 40'
They have two concerns: (1) they worry that a branch may
fall into their yard and injure someone, and (2) they say
the roots extend well into their yard and are causing
damage to a walkway and small wall. Originally they were
concerned that the roots might damage the foundation of
their house, but they appear to have been reassured by
several arborists and another neighbor that that's not
likely. They've stopped insisting that we just remove the
tree. (They are elderly, and many years ago had an
experience where a family member's young child was killed
by a falling branch in her back yard. I don't know why
they are suddenly concerned about this now.)
We've had several highly-recommended tree companies look
at the situation, and paid over $1,000 to have a
consulting arborist do a complete report. The neighbors
declined to help pay for the report. We're planning to
have the tree pruned and cabled to deal with the falling-
branch possibility (cost around $1,500-$2,000).
Our main question is about the roots, and what our legal
responsibility is. The consultant said that the damage
actually might not be caused by the roots, as he thought
earth movement was a more likely cause of at least some of
it (he did not put this in his report). The solution he
proposed was to carefully (by hand or compressed air) dig
a 2-3 foot trench along the property line and carefully
cut the roots by hand. One company had given us an
estimate of over $3,000 for that. We had another company
come out today to give us an estimate, and their arborist
was afraid it'd make the tree unstable enough to fall down
and advised against it.
I've checked the BPN archives and done an internet search,
but don't find a good answer to what our legal
responsibility is (though it seems that the neighbors can
go ahead and cut the roots on their side of the fence at
their expense, as long as they don't damage the health of
the tree). I'm hoping someone on BPN knows, or can maybe
direct us to someone who does (or to the section of the
legal code that deals with it). Also, a number of posts
recommended mediation. I'd be grateful for more info
about how that works, along with how to find someone who
does it well. Thanks in advance.
Would like to keep the college fund for college!
You can check with your local building department as to what your
neighbors can do in terms of root pruning, and what your own responsibility
We have a house in Walnut Creek with a neighbor who has
redwood and pine trees.
It has become apparent that the trees in the neighbors yard
shade our garden on the far north side of our lot. They also
shade the southeast bedroom of our house until after 9:30
AM. It will be later by Dec 21, Winter Solstice.
In addition to this, the neighbor has planted 6 more
redwoods that will, in a few years, shade our house even
more, later in the morning when we want to warm the house
with the sun in the winter.
I called a solar energy company about installation of a
system on our roof. They said we were a no-go on account of
the shading issue.
We want to stay here for the long term but also want to have
the warmth of the sun in our children's room and be able to
have renewable energy power our home. We also want our 17
fruit tree mini orchard to be able to thrive so we can take
advantage of our suburban lot.
I've yet to say anything to our neighbor as I don't want to
say the wrong thing. This is extremely important to me to do
the right thing to resolve this issue. I feel that we have
some right to have sunlight fall on our house.
Smart people of Berkeley - What is the most effective thing
for us to do to be able to work issue out?
Walnut Creek, CA
Wanting our days in the sun
You want to be environmental -so great; your neighbors are
clearly environmental (also fabulous) -- I would go to
them and discuss the dilemma and find mutually agreeable
solutions between you. Dialogue together instead of as
dualistic. Great gifts you both have.
First off I would call the city building department or
planning commission and find out what the rules are
regarding access to sunlight and view. It is a big deal in
Berkeley and Oakland so there are rules. In Walnut Creek it
may be more a solar issue or a Mt. Diablo view. Once you
know where you can go legally put it in your hip pocket in
case you need it later. Next have a talk with the neighbor
about your long term residence plans and solar power turn
down and ask if they can help. Redwoods leach tanic acid
which can wreck the finish on a car with red rust like
stains, they grow like weeds, and just aren't a wise choice
around homes and foundations as they get too big too fast.
You could offer to pay for him to plant something smaller,
or pay for the removal. Folks don't like to do anything that
costs them money. My brother had this same issue in LA where
he has a pool and wanted the sun his neighbor was blocking.
They ended up in court and my brother won a court order for
the neighbor to remove the tree which he did and now my
brother has an arch enemy next door forever. So try to use
sugar first and resort to vinegar if you have to. Otherwise
forget solar and live with the shade and your neighbor.
First step is to let them know it is a problem and see how
they respond. Good luck.
Our neighbor has a tree bordering our property line that is
dead. The only thing keeping it from falling is their fence
and an arbor that is on property. I should note that we do
not have a good relationship with these neighbors, there is
long history of bad blood. Though we've made attempts to
try and have at the least, a civil relationship, they choose
to simply ignore us (even if our young children say ''hello''
as kids do, they pretend that they don't hear them and walk
past them). We sent them a registered letter a few months
ago letting them know that the tree is falling onto our
property and requesting that they either remove it or have
it braced professionally on their side of the property lines
to ensure that it doesn't fall onto our property. They have
not responded to the letter at all or made any attempts to
keep the tree from falling. The fence is now sagging from
the weight of the tree. If the tree does fall, it would
fall onto our porch and block our access off of our property
(we are in one of those houses that sit in the middle of the
block, so our access out to the street is only through a
shared walkway). I've checked through the city of Berkeley
and since the tree is on private property there is nothing
that the city can or should do. I'm at a loss. I've long
given up on expecting the neighbors to act courteously or
responsibly when it comes to us, but I really just don't
know what to do protect our property (and children) from
this tree falling onto our home and yard.
Many Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions.
Just Wanting To Protect My Kids
I have no idea if this would work, but a friend of mine
recently had a suggestion to a similar situation. Call up
your insurance agent and describe the situation, then ask if
that if the tree does fall onto your porch, would your
insurance pay for the damage or your neighbors who own the
tree? Your agent then might be willing to call up the
neighbor's agent to discuss potential liability.
not sure I could do it, but my friend could
I'm not sure how you presented this case to the city of
Berkeley, but the advice you have received is incorrect. We
had a similar situation and although we are in Oakland I
can't think it's that different legally. 1: If any of the
tree is growing over to your side you can remove it, i.e.
branches etc. 2: If the tree is dead and a liability to fall
on your property it is 100% the owners responsibility to
remove it. The city can put a lien on their house until
Getcherself a chain saw, you can cut anything on your side
of the fence to the property line. You've been polite, now
just take care of it. No more waiting. It's actually
i am not one for over regulating ... but really, safety
first! and, if a tree is destroying your fence/ right of
way, and causing a falling hazard... there ought to be some
help from town hall. have you asked the building and safety
We are Berkeley residents, whose next-door neighbor has
planted a row of tall trees along the fence line between
our property, which in effect have raised the height of
the fence to 15-20 feet. The result is not that our view
is blocked, but that our once sunny patio area is now
completely covered in shade. (This is not how we planned
or intended the space).
Do we have any recourse? Do any of you have any advice
for us? Will the City intervene, using the fence laws?
Thanks for any help/recommendations/suggestions/ideas.
Sunny area obliterated
Berkeley ordinances don't distinguish berween a property
line fence or hedge However, enforcement is another
question. Height is limited to 6 feet. Here is my
experience with this. My neighbor planted additional hedges
and erected a 7' tall bamboo fence between the hedges and
my new redwood property line fence (6') blocking light and
views across our property line. When I first sought relief
via code enforcement, they seemed very concerned and told
me what he had done was illegal. However, several weeks
later when they came out to look at the fence and hedges,
they clearly changed their mind and told me: ''It doesn't
look that bad. You have no reason to complain. Call us
again if it gets too much higher.'' At that time the hedges
was 8' high. I called again the following year when the
neighbor extended his 7' bamboo fence all the way acroos
the property line, leaning against my fence, and the hedges
were over 10' tall. They refused to look at the proplem
again with me and insisted on viewung the conditions only
when I was not there. Their response was: ''Why don't you
quit harrassing your neighbor...'' I sited the ordinances to
the head of code enforcement, and insisted that it was a
violation of the ordinances. I then told me that they
couldn't be bothered with this problem, the law was
whatever they said it was, and if they didn't feel like
enforcing any particular ordinances, that was their choice,
they had no obligation to do so, and no one could do
anything about it. This is a very simplified and condensed
version of events that lasted 6 years. Bottom line is, if
the neighbor knows someone or has connections at City Hall,
code enforcement will let them do whatever they like. If
you complain that the ordinances are not being enforced,
you will be insulted, berated and told to go away. I
appealed to my City Council member about the events and got
a similar reaction. At first she was sympathetic and agreed
that code enfourcement should act, then she reversed course
the next week and,likewise, accused me of harassing my
neighbor and causing trouble. She insisted that I just give
it up, because nothing was going to be done, and if I
didn't like it I should go and hire a lawyer. The hedges
are now 10'-16' tall and eliminate direct winter light from
my rear yard. Good luck.
Hi, I live in Kensington, and have trees that were planted in the
sidewalk above our house. I have been paying to have them
trimmed so that my uphill neighbors have a view. I was wondering
who owns these trees? I think I am responsible for maintaining
the sidewalk in Contra Costa, but don't know about the trees. I
don't want to trim the trees, or pay for their care, but I also
don't want to alienate the neighbors who seem to think that I am
responsible for it. I was wondering legally, who owns them? and
who is responsible for their care?
To the best of my knowledge, the trees are planted by the city.
Try contacting them for trimming. I know you need to check with
them if you want to cut one down.
Call the town offices. Usually, pruning street trees is a
This is the very reason why I will never live anywhere unincorporated again.
is no easy path to get your questions answered.
You are definitely responsible for the sidewalk. I can't see a reason why you
not be responsible for the trees on the sidewalk. I believe this is the group
can help you to find out. I would contact the chair.
Kensington Municipal Advisory Council
Meets last Tuesday, 7:00pm
Call 273-9926 for information.
We have neighbors on either side of our house who continually
cut back our plants and sometimes large branches of our trees
that hang over on to their property. We've asked more than
once to let us know if they want something cut back and we will
do it (they do such hack jobs that we worry the plants/trees
might die.) However, this never happens. Does anyone know how
to find out where the law really stands on this issue? We've
asked both attorneys and our city hall and have gotten
conflicting answers. We live in Benicia. Thanks for any
As a former landscaper I can tell you that your neighbors have
the legal right to cut anything that hangs over on to their
property in any manner they choose. I think the only thing you
can do is talk to them again....or just pay REALLY close
attention to the plant growth so you can get to it before they
do. Good luck. I know it's frustrating.
I'd be pissed at my neighbors, too. At the same time, if you
KNOW it's a problem, and you KNOW they're going to cut your
plants when they hang over the fence, CUT 'EM YOURSELF ALREADY!
See any patterns here?!? If you're so concerned for your plants
and trees, take better care of them yourself so that the
neighbors are never tempted to take matters into their own hands.
Should they ideally talk to you? Yes. But they don't. You want
to complain about how they SHOULD act? Or solve the problem?
They sound like unreasonable nutjobs -- so why are you trying to
be reasonable with crazy people? I'd be focused on trying to
find a way to minimize the risk of irritating the lunatics next
My advice would be to get out there and trim them BEFORE they
grow into your neighbors yards. Then it probably wouldn't be an
issue. I wouldn't want to have to call my neighbor every time I
wanted to trim. I would expect them to be proactive about it if
they were that concerned. The usual theory is that they can cut
anything on their side of the fence as long as it doesn't kill
Try to remember that nothing can kill a warm-fuzzy neighborhood
feeling like fighting over trees and plants. Be the good guy and
keep them trimmed. Sounds like that would keep you AND your
Be a good plant parent.
Take the hint, it would seem that your neighbors don't like your
trees overhanging into their yard. It is understandable. The
solution is very straightforward AND friendly AND, your
responsibility. Not theirs. Regularly monitor your own trees
and keep your trees trimmed back. How hard can that be? In this
way, you can maintain your trees properly w/o worry about your
neighbors hacking at your trees. Your neighbors will appreciate
your consideration and your trees will get the proper care.
Doing your part will go a long ways towards good neighbor
relations. Legally, your neighbors have the right to cut back
those trees that hang over onto their property. I see no reason
to be litigious, unless you have a lawyer that cuts trees on the
Signed, K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, silly)
I live in Kensington, same issue; I have no trees on my
property, but both neighbors have HUGE trees that overhang my
property. I have asked also for them to cut-back, but to no
avail. I read somewhere that you are under no obligation to
advise your neighbor that you want to cut the over-hang; you
should be allowed to do whatever you wish on your side of
the ''fence'' (regardless of who pays)
However, as we are supposed to be good neighbors, we should
share the expense, or at least talk about the situation. Too
bad we don't all live next to good neighbors.... I think if you
are not getting a response, and you have the budget to cut back
with your own money, then do so. Obviously, if your neighbor
does not even respect you enough to respond, and you have made
the effort, then you should do whats in your best interest.
Why not cut back the trees yourself when they start to hang over
your neighbor's property? You might even ask them if you can do
it from their yard, or tell them that you'll hire a gardener to
do it. Sounds like they really don't like your plants in their
yard, and I'd say they have a right to cut it back if it's in
their yard or overhanging their yard. So be respectful. Prune
your plants before they get there. (and their ''hack job'' is
probably more un-aesthetic than harmful to the plant. If it's
really potentially harmful, you'd take care of it yourself before
it got to that stage, wouldn't you?)
What are my options in dealing with our neighbors who recently
cut about 5ft off of our hedge that was on our property so they
could get a breeze? We have told them we were not going to cut
it as it gave our backyard total privacy from their big two
story house. Now we have no privacy and the hedge is as tall
as the legal height of a fence. It will take years to grow
back. I am sick about it. We were out of town when this
No more privacy
I'm sure others will give you sane, practical info. I'm here
with the ''flying off the handle'' approach. Man... I'd be pissed
at that huge violation! Hell, I'm pissed FOR you.
I would erect something 5 ft above the existing hedge that is
semi-permanent (allows the hedge to grow) that blocks their
breeze and is INCREDIBLY unattractive (smelly too, if I could
deal with it) facing their direction.
You might not want to actually take my advice, but just
fantasize about it instead.
Really, they vandalized your property. You've gotta have some
I feel your pain.
My neighbor did this too, despite my previous warnings to her and to her
gardeners that she does not have permission to come in to my yard and
prune my plants, which she had done to me and to other neighbots several times.
We aren't talking about my plants hanging over in to her yard or shading her
They were growing straight up on my side of the fence. She doesn't want me to
have anything in my yard taller than the 4 foot high fence we share. She says
it blocks her sun, which is nonsense -- our houses are only a few feet
apart, over 2 stories tall so there is no sunlight in that space, and the
plants I put in for a little screening between us
are well below the tops of our houses. I wrote her a letter and mailed it to her
one year after she decapitated a little stand of bamboo I had just started
In the letter I repeated that she does not
have my permission to prune anything on my side of the fence, and I asked her
to pay me to replace the fledgling bamboo she ruined. Didn't hear back, but
things did calm down for a while. But I still keep an eye out when her gardeners
are there, and I have caught them a couple of times with an electric pruner just
on the verge of clipping my stuff. Another neighbor threatened her with a
restraining order after she brought her gardeners over and started hacking away
at the neighbor's redwood tree (which also wasn't hanging over her yard.) Some
people are just craaaazy I guess.
We're no lawyers, but what my husband & I would do ASAP is file
a police report/complaint. It's got to be something like,
trespassing, destruction of propery, vandalism... (A police
report will be useful should you go to court.) Then we'd head
over to the free lawyer day that's offered at many of the local
libraries. Find out what you need to do evidence-wise to take
this guy (total jerk) to small claims court. Hopefully you'll
be able to sue for the max - $5000, I think. To get to the $5K
amount, you'll need to put a loss value on what happened. I'd
find a good real estate agent who can say in a letter, that the
damage done caused a property value loss at X amount because you
no longer have the ''private backyard space.'' You can also head
to a nursery & get an estimate on what the replacement cost
including labor would be for such big plants. Well, that's
where we'd start on this. What an ugly neighbor! Good luck.
So sorry this happened. It happened to my parents and they took
them to court and won a settlement -- not not enough to replace
the trees their neighbors destroyed (they also painted tar on
the cuts!) apparently my folks hedge was blocking the sun to
their fruit trees -- and of course the lost privacy was also
neighbors can be ugly
I'm sorry I didn't respond earlier, but I wanted to check in with my
husband who is an attorney who's dealt with exactly these kinds of
issues. Your neighbors broke the law and are liable for that. Among
the things that my husband said you could prosecute them for:
trespassing and destruction of property. So you should be able to get
your attorney's fees and damages--maybe damages of three to five times
the value of the hedges. He strongly encourages you to pursue it. My
family now lives out of state, but recently a neighbor radically cut
back a tree that she thought was on her property. She didn't cut it
down, just trimmed it way back. Her neighbors sued her and she ended
up paying $5,000 in damages for destruction of property. So that
might give you a sense of the infraction here.
Sympathetic with you
How worried should we be about our neighbor using TruGreen/Chem
Lawn pesticides/chemicals on their lawn? They also use a pest
control company that is not earth-friendly. We have a good
neighborly relationship (they're quite a bit older - kids are out
of home), but I feel like I might be able to encourage them to
switch to human and earth friendly stuff over time.. But, how
worried should we be now, as we have young kids? Advice on how
to handle? Thanks.
worried about neighbor's lawn care
I support your efforts to garden without the use of pesticides,as
it is best for the environment and for humans. The most likely
way you might be exposed is if a pesticide applied on a
neighbor's lawn drifts onto your property (assuming the
pesticides are being applied by spraying) and someone is exposed
from breathing, skin contact (from the air or touching residue on
plants) or eating it (on plants, putting dirty hand in the mouth.
It's not always obvious that drift has occurred. Your property
may also accidentally be sprayed. Pesticides that kill beneficial
insects can affect your property indirectly--I think this is a
big concern. Pesticides can get into the groundwater. Having a
pest control company come regularly to apply pesticides in the
home is definitely a bad idea and unnecessary use of
pesticides--these companies often sell uninformed people services
they don't need. Your neighbors are being more heavily exposed
to pesticides than you are. If they have pets, this is of concern
to them as well; pets get the highest exposure, both inside and
outside. You could try approaching them with this angle.
Although there is a general concern with pesticide use, unless
you know the exact pesticide (or other chemical) being used on
your neighbor's lawn, it is difficult to know specifically what
the risk is to your kids and to you. There are some studies that
have shown that applying pesticides in one own's garden is
harmful to health, particularly during pregnancy. The pesticides
that are used on residential properties today are less toxic than
in the past, but are still of concern.
Organic gardening is more labor intensive and therefore more
expensive than ''conventional''. An intermediate approach is to use
''Integrated Pesticide Management'', which uses pesticides only if
a certain load of harmful pests are observed.
If you do approach your neighbors to explain your concerns and
they agree to stop using pesticides in the garden, they will
probably need to look for a gardener who uses organic practices
and they may have to pay more than they are currently doing. They
should definitely stop regular pesticide applications in the home
and garden. Good luck.
organic gardener, know a lot about pesticides
Stay off their lawn and MYOB. You are not the eco police!
Green but not militant mommy
I don't mean to be rude but it's none of your business. It's
not your lawn and if you're SO concerned, don't let your kids
roll around on it or eat it. The chemicals aren't going to
leach into your kids by being next door...in their lawn. Not
only that, chemicals are everywhere and you can't protect your
children from everything all the time. I understand you wanting
people to be more conscientious but this is too much. You can't
control EVERYTHING other people do and you shouldn't be able
to. It's their decision. You wouldn't appreciate their advice
on raising your kids or the food you eat, car you drive, etc.
Give them the same respect and let them live their lives. It's
not a meth lab, it's a fertilizer....
Pick your battles
Is your child climbing in their grass or rooting around the
neighbors plants? If not, I suggest you mind your own beeswax.
Not everyone cares about green alternatives...you may sound
preachy and holier than thou if you head over there with the
ways they need to green their garden.
grass is always greener
Our neighbor's tree roots are making their way towards our foundation. We know this
because they've started to push up our concrete patio and you can see the direction
they're headed. Anyone been through this and have any advice? (non-legal, of
The unfortunate thing is that this neighbor has been pretty uncooperative with tree
issues in the past, and has several very large trees in a very small yard. We will
definitely go the route of talking to them to try and solve the problem, but wonder if
anyone has suggestions on protocol or experience with a similar situation. We'd like
to maintain a positive relationship AND don't want our foundation compromised. We
also don't want to shell out a ton of $$ for something that's someone else's
Fair Fred in El Cerrito
You are allowed by law to do anything to your neighbor's tree
that lands in your yard. So you could, for example, hire someone
to come in, dig down, and chop all the roots away that are
growing toward your foundation and put up a retaining block or
salt the earth or whatever under the ground to keep them from
growing back there. Warn your neighbor if it may hurt or kill the
tree, but you have a right to protect your property and it would
be legal. (Of course the best situation would be to have your
neighbors agree and share the cost so you can remain neighborly.
Just don't count on it.)
If it is their tree, then they are liable. You might want to
make sure it's not a city tree...because then the city is liable.
Your insurance may cover this, if/when it gets to the
foundation, but then they redflag you. Talking or mediation is
always a great first step...but I suggest you find out whether
or not it's his tree for certain prior to starting the dialogue
process. Also, if his tree is about to destroy your foundation,
you may want to see if the roots are going to, or have, damaged
your sewer lateral. I know, more info than you wanted to hear...
You may legally cut any tree part that is on your property
whether it's underground or hanging over a fence.
If your neighbor is uncooperative he/she likely will not want to
share the cost of you digging out his tree roots. Hopefully the
roots are not main roots that will damage the tree....but if
that is what you decide to do (and foot the bill) you should let
your neighbor know this.
Peter Rudy is an excellent, knowledgable arborist. His number is
in the book. He can give you great advice. He'll know what to do
and how to do it.
If your neighbors have been uncooperative in the past, they probably won't stop
now. We had the same thing, tree in the neighbor's yard was getting close to our
foundation. We offered to pay for the whole thing though because we felt it was for
our safety and also wanted to keep a positive relationship, like you said. So
what we did. And it cost us ALOT, not cheap. But it was still worth it.
Ironically, our neighbors received some notes on their door about how cruel they
were for cutting down that tree (even though they didn't, we did), the birds &
squirrels were losing their home. So I guess we should've lost our home so the
and squirrels could stay?
Since a couple of people who responded to your post mentioned
cutting out the tree's roots on your side of the property line as
a solution to your problem, I think I should point out a serious
disadvantage in going that route.
Yes, you do have the legal right to do that, but as a
horticulturist, I know that it can have the effect of
destabilizing the tree and making it vulnerable to toppling over!
I really doubt that you want to take that risk since doing so has
the potential of causing just as bad consequences as foundation
damage- the possibility of someone being injured, or worse, as
well as serious property damage.
And- although most trees can sustain some very carefully and
knowledgeably done removable of a few roots, taking out half of
them, or even just the big major ones that you fear may endanger
your foundation, carries a good possibility of killing the tree-
which would increase the odds of it falling down unexpectedly.
The mediation route that's been suggested is a much better way to go!
In spite of the apparent good intentions of those who wrote in
saying you could do anything you wanted to your neighbor's tree
if part of it was on your property, they are apparently not
sufficiently well versed in California law. While the gist of
the ''my property, my rules'' approach is generally true, there are
some very important exceptions, and it sounds like your case may
fall into the ''exceptional'' category.
For instance, let's say you have a three hundred year old oak
growing near the fence line of an adjoining property. Your
neighbor sells, and the new owner of that property decides they
want more light for their lawn, and has your oak brutally pruned
right to the fence line, permanently damaging the aesthetics,
health, and structure of your heritage oak. Historically, court
precedent would be AGAINST your neighbor, holding them liable for
YOUR lost property value, and in some cases other damages as well.
Similarly, even if your neighbor's tree is impinging on your
foundation, if you cut the roots and the tree then falls onto
your neighbor's house during the next windstorm, there is every
possibility that you will be held liable - especially if the
neighbor can show that the root-cutting weakened the tree, and
you cannot provide clear and convincing proof that the roots were
affecting your foundation in a significant way. It is almost
never safe to say that you can do ''whatever you want'' without
regard to the consequences, even if it is your own property.
My advice would be to contact a reputable consulting arborist,
and perhaps a lawyer, before having anything cut. If you have to
cut roots to preserve your foundation, it would probably be wise
to inform your neighbor of any risks associated with the work, so
that they can take appropriate action as necessary. Whatever
your relationship with your neighbor, failure to do so may be
perceived as negligence, or worse.
concerned for your well-being
Please help me with this dilemma. We live on a friendly street
and really enjoy our neighbors on our block, and over the years
have worked out building new fences, trimmings trees and so
forth. But I'm perplexed about our neighbors behind us. They
have just sprayed, and looks like, killed all the plants along
our back fence. It looks like a large amount of spray was used,
This is unthinkable to me, not only because they destroyed our
plants, but because we have a beloved dog, and never use
chemicals in our yard.
We do not really know the couple who lives behind us. They are
older, perhaps in their 70s, their house faces a busy street,
and they usually are not in their back yard when we are in
ours. When I discovered the plants, I ventured over to ask
about it. She was quite indignant and said our ivy was
destroying her fence. I asked her why she didn't talk to us; we
would have worked something out. She said it was obvious the
ivy was ruining her fence and we never did anything about it. I
was amazed, because when we first moved in there were all kinds
of vines on that fence, including ivy, and after a few years, I
noticed they were cutting any that grew up to their side and
throwing it over the fence. So I took it all off. We even built
a trellis away from the fence so we could grow a vine on it
(but she may have killed that, too.) There is some ivy on the
ground on one side, but it's growing on our side. When I
mentioned this, she said it was the roots that were destroying
her fence. I had no idea of this, or even that it was ''her''
fence. Those roots have probably been there for decades!
My question: Do I report this incident? Or should I try to dig
out the ivy roots, plant new plants (they were beautiful, well
established shrubs not touching her fence), and hope our dog
will not be affected by the poison? I wanted to find out what
she used, but she was very antagonistic and I felt I needed to
leave. I should mention that they also called the planning
department when we installed a (legal) shed in our back yard.
Thanks for your take on this.
You have unreasonable, passive-agressive neighbors. Just bite
the bullet and pull out the ivy and relandscape the area near
your fence so it doesn't encroach upon your neighbors' property
line. Deescalate the battle before they ''throw something over
the fence'' to your dog.
Could you, please, pass on to me any information, personal experience, or contacts
regarding a neighbor's responsibility, or otherwise, to maintain tree heights and
in the Berkeley hills? We are having a tough time with this non-issue. Thank you.
It's not clear how much research you have done yet. If you
haven't looked up the Solar Access and Views Ordinance, start
If this link doesn't work, go to the City of Berkeley home page
at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us and click on Municipal Code & Zoning
Ordinance (near the top) and in ''Contents'' on the left navigate
to Title 12 and then to Chapter 12.45
Our neighbor, whom we share our back yard fence with, has
secluded herself with trees as high as 20 ft. some fruit trees
are hanging above our yard, and when the fruits fall, it all
goes on the ground. There is one tree which has small white
bloom (no fruits) and is the tallest. It makes such a big mess
in our yard, all over, and on top of that, blocks the view.
Over the last 6 years since we bought the house, the view to
the bay (which we feel is part of the house value) has
gradually become more and more limited.. I tried to approach
her once and she got defensive, and said she would not trim it
down, since it has been there for over 25 years.
I should also add that we live in an unincorporated zone and
the border between us and the Richmond city IS our shared fence.
Any ideas how to handle this situation?
Our neighbor had the same attitude (he's a lawyer and said 'so
sue me' at one point). So we sliced the trees, as if a laser
came straight up from the fence. If it was on our side, we cut
it, and all was good. Have fun
Our situation is opposite of yours - we are considering planting
some trees so that our neighbor, who has built up and UP and UP,
can no longer see into the living room of our house.
Unfortunately, our trees could partially block her view of the bay.
Our town has the local ordinances online. In our town in Contra
Costa county, ''A claimant has no right greater than that which
existed at the time of the claimant's acquisition of the property
involved in the view claim.'' I assume this to mean that our
neighbor only has the right to the view they had when they bought
the house, that is, their pre-addition view. If there is a
similar ordinance in your town your neighbor might be legally
obligated to trim her trees.
Our ordinance also states that the claimant has to provide
''evidence.'' Pictures or video, I guess, of the original view.
It would be good to know specifically where you stand with local
regulations before talking to her again. It's too bad she's
defensive. Would it be worth it to you (to preserve neighborly
good feelings) to split the cost of the tree trimming with her?
I'm going to take your neighbor's point of view at least slightly. We have
an oak tree overhanging our deck and yard that is growing primarily in
our neighbor's yard. Having the tree is, we feel, a major part of the
beauty of OUR view. In the time that we've lived there, we have had a
neighbor who lopped off, without any regard for the health or beauty of
the tree, the top two-thirds of the branches. After this happened, I
couldn't stop crying for hours. It totally messed up, for us, the feeling of
living in the treetops that we had had before that.
So please understand, the trees may be to your neighbor what the bay
view is to you.
I am not saying don't work with your neighbor to get the trees trimmed.
But please, please understand what your neighbor may be afraid of, and
that your neighbor may love the trees very much. With that in mind,
perhaps you could approach your neighbor again, explain that you
would be willing to pay for at least half of the services of a GOOD,
SENSITIVE tree-trimming company, who could truly trim (as opposed to
butcher) the trees, making them healthier and more beautiful as well as
helping out with your view issues
Read the book Neighbor Law: Fences Trees Boundaries and Noise
published by Nolo Press (probably available at your library)
for ideas for solutions - I believe that you have the right to
trim the portion of the tree that hangs over your property
If i were you, my first step would be to have an arborist
(certified or licenced?) visit your yard and take a look at the
trees and see what they would do IF they could do it. And get
an estimate. It often helps to get an expert opinion. You can
probably find recommendations for arborsists here.
Before or after that, see if there are tree ordinances for the
City of Richmond and for COntra Costa COunty unincorporated
areas. Get yourself educated.
Once you get an ideaa of responsible options for pruning or
otherwise caring for the trees, then you could casually approach
your neighbor and try another dialogue. Perhpas you can set up
a meeting with you, your neighbor and anarborist to go over
recommendations and costs.
The last resort, I think, is to trim back what you think needs
trimming on your side of the fence. I am not an expert in the
law or in your local ordinances, but I THINK that usually one
can trim anything hanging over their property line. My BIG
caution would be to not trim anything that would make the tree's
sprouting worse (that is why you need professional advice). And
definitely don't go on her property (or ask your arborist to)
without her permission
Tree Lover and View Lover
As far as I know, if your neighbor's trees hang over your
yard/property, you are allowed to trim the tree back to the
property line. You don't need their permission, just do it.
The only caveat is if you trim it so much that the tree dies,
then you're liable for the damage to their tree (i.e. don't
trim so much that it affects the tree on their side of the
My husband and I recently bought a house in the Berkeley hills
with a view of the Golden Gate bridge. For the most part, it's
not an uninterrupted view, as many trees, telephone poles and
such are in the way; but we can see the bridge from parts of
the house and from the backyard, which is upslope from the
house. My neighbor, who has an uninterrupted expansive view of
the bay, has decided to plant a wall of sycamore trees along
our shared property line. These trees, when fully grown, will
block most of our view from the back yard.
We have had a good relationship with these neighbors. We
converse regularly, pass garden vegetables over the shared
fence, and we have never complained about the constant barking
of their two German Shepherd dogs.
We have had several polite conversations about the proposed
sycamores, where we've expressed our concerns about our view,
and suggested alternatives (different types of plants, shorter
trees, etc.). However, our neighbor has decided to plant these
trees anyway (though he hasn't yet). His argument is that our
view is from our house only, not from the backyard. He wants to
plant these trees to block his view of our roof from his
We continue to have a friendly dialog about about planting
these trees. However, he is growing more adamant, and I'm not
confident that he can be persuaded.
Does anyone have any suggestions on what else I can do? Does
Berkeley have any view ordinances regarding trees (not
buildings)? Thanks very much for any ideas.
I've read that Berkeley does have an ordinance protecting your
view. You have the right to the view you had when you bought your
house, but if you have to pay for your neighbor's trimming if you
insist on maintaining that view. You'll want to investigate this
further and then inform your neighbor.
Obviously it's better if you can dissuade your neighbor now.
Berkeley also has a low cost mediation program that might help
you. In the meantime, you might take a few photos of your view
for future refernce.
There is a tree/view ordinance in Berkeley though I don't
recall precisely what it says. You should be able to get it
through the City's website. I would also recommend you
initiate mediation. Berkeley Dispute Resolution Services
(BDRS) does just this sort of neighbor mediation on a donation
basis. Whether you resolve it on your own or through
mediation, check the ordinance first so you know where you
stand legally on the issue.
Before your neighbor plants the trees, give the East Bay Community Mediation a call.
(http://www.ebcm.org/index.html) They are located on San Pablo Avenue. They
offer consultations and mediations to neighbors. They will send out a letter to your
neighbor asking for a mediation. You can then talk about the trees and the barking
dogs in a neutral setting with two mediators. Last I checked, it was about $40/
sliding scale. Well worth the money.
I commend you for wanting to resolve this issue before it becomes
confrontational. Your situation is challenging because these are your neighbors
who you will see/live with for a long time to come. Also, they have a right to plant
their trees even if they are blocking your lovely view. I hope you come to a happy
resolution what ever it may be--different trees, different location, different sleeping
area for dogs, different time schedules for dog run.
a former mediator
You should talk to an attorney. California has a law that
limits fences that I believe has been interpreted by courts to
apply to trees that block views, and most cities have similar
ordinances (I'd be shocked if Berkeley didn't - you can even
check online because most cities post their ordinances). There
is definitely case law on the issue of a neighbor blocking
another neighbor's view, and the neighbor with the view may be
protected. I don't think it matters whether the view is from
the house or yard. Anyway, a real estate or land use attorney
should be able to help you. Try Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger in
SF, I think they specialize in this kind of thing, or could
refer you to someone.
Berkeley has a view preservation ordinance that addresses tree
blockage, codified as Title 12, Chapter 12.45 of the Municipal
Code. You can find the Municipal Code on-line at
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/bmc. I think that the ordinance
extends to backyard views, although I'm not sure. You might
also call the City and ask if they have any regulations of this
particular sort of tree -- some cities require a permit for
trees that are particularly apt to cause view problems.
We have been on the other end of things with a very unreasonable
neighbor who aggressively ''suggested'' that we top or cut down a
beautiful, mature tree that is older than his house (and on the
opposite end of our property from his) in order to preserve
something like 1% of his panoramic view. Over the years we have
learned a lot about the tree/view ordinances in the area and
strongly suggest that you read Berkeley's ordinance for yourself,
from beginning to end. However, the bottom line is, you don't
own the air space over your neighbors' properties. If you
approach it from the standpoint that you will be asking your
neighbor for a favor, you will get much further than you ever
will by going to court or even a mediator. Invite your neighbor
to your home to talk about the problem. Serve refreshments. Show
the neighbor the problem from your standpoint. Invest in the
relationship, show courtesy and interest in his point of view,
and be willing to compromise. Offer to share in the expense of
replacing the new plantings with low-growing species. Offer to
pay for an arborist's visit to get a good recommendation.
Consider it a long-term investment in your peace of mind. This
is a very hot issue all over the Bay area so there's a lot of
experience to draw from. Although some people are impervious to
respect and reason, my advice is to brush up on your people
skills before running to a lawyer. Good luck.
My wife and I recently purchased a house in Montclair. We did
not bother with a survey of the property line at the time of
purchase and the map and description in our prelims are quite
A few weeks ago our immediate neighbor hired a crew to cut and
trim some Eucalyptus trees on his property. The problem is that
we are pretty sure that some of the cut trees are on *our* side
of the property line (the neighbor did not contact us before
cutting the trees). When we noticed, we asked the neighbor to
stop the work until we could assess exactly where the property
We called a few surveyors in the area and their phone-estimates
are in the $2500-$4000 range. We have no idea if this is what we
should expect, or if there is any other (reasonably priced) way
to establish a property line.
Also, we would appreciate any suggestion about what we can do if
it turns out that -as we unfortunately expect- the trees were on
Same situation happened to us...our neighbor trimmed/cut
trees which were on our property. We had recently moved
in, and the previous owner told us his father had planted
the large redwood tree in dispute.
I called MANY surveyors and found that they wanted min.
$2500- 3500 to survey just one property line and map the
house out for us. Ridiculous!
Then through my realtor I found Don Vegvary of Vegvary and
Vegvary Engineering. Really nice guy, competant, quick
and very inexpensive - we got everything done and
addiotional work for $1500 on a 1/3+ acre property. He
also did not come with an "attitude", which so many
surveyors I interviewed had! Don can be reached at (925)
Needless to say, the tree was on our property, and turned
out that we had MORE property than previously thought!
We have a number of palm trees on our property which we love. However, there is one palm and a redwood that is growing right on the
edge of our property. The condominium complex next to ours has
decided that they don't like the palm and redwood. They have gotten an
expert to look them over and decide that the palm presents a ''hazard to
life and limb''. They originally wanted us to get rid of the redwood
because it was causing their sidewalk to crack. They apparently couldn't
get the tree guy to say that the redwood was damaging their foundation
but they are still going after our palm. Their groundskeeper has pulled
off half of the frond bottoms that you leave on the tree. I think the tree
only extends about 2 inches onto the separating curb and does not
impinge or protrude onto their sidewalk between both properties. They
are now insisting that we remove the tree at our own expense. Any
advice on how to handle this situation? Does the condo association have
the right to rip off parts of our tree? Are we legally obligated to tear
down a tree that we really like and would like to keep because of their
complaints? Your advice is much appreciated.
The book Neighbor Law, published by Nolo, covers many of
these issues related to trees and property lines.
Unfortunately, sometimes the answer is ''it depends.''
Available at the library or any good bookstore. You could
also try the Nolo outlet in west Berkeley, but every time I
used go there they were out of the thing I wanted.
If you are considering legal action, you might want to first
try mediation, which is almost certainly cheaper.
David in Berkeley
We have a couple of trees in our yard (some dead, some alive)
that are leaning towards our neighbors yard and house. He has
asked that we cut one down (or at least trim it), because he's
worried that it will fall on his house or fence. I've been
assuming that if the tree falls and damages his property, our
homeowners insurance would cover it. I also have been assuming
that if I remove it now, insurance will not cover it.
Can anyone answer the following questions? Also, feel free to
add any thoughts of your own.
1. Are my assumptions about what insurance will/will not cover
2. Do I have any obligation to do anything now to take the tree
Let's say the trees were in your neighbor's yard, leaning toward
your house and threatening to fall onto your property and damage
it or potentially injure you or one of your children. Should
your neighbor's primary concern be whether s/he was going to have
to pay for removing the tree, or should s/he be more concerned
about the risk of injuring you or damaging your property?
Your message does not make clear what type of damage might be
imminent should one of these trees fall, but it does make clear
that your priorities are misplaced. If the thought of damaging
your neighbor's property or potentially even injuring your
neighbor leaves you unmoved, perhaps the thought that the
neighbor might have grounds for an expensive lawsuit that would
exceed the bounds of your homeowner's insurance policy might stir
Golden Rule applies here
If lightning struck a healthy tree and it fell on your
neighbor's house, either your insurance or your neighbor's --
probably both -- would cover the damage. But if the tree just
fell over one day because it's dead and leaning, particularly
given that you knew about this condition but did nothing to
resolve it, you could definitely be held liable and would have a
much harder time getting full in! surance coverage.
In other words, yes, you have an obligation to take reasonable
preventative measures in a situation like this. Remember that
besides your neighbor's fence, a falling tree could hurt or kill
a person who happened to be standing in your yard or the
neighbor's at the wrong time. It's worth spending a little
money and time to ensure that isn't likely to happen. Your
neighbor may be willing to share the costs with you if you can't
afford it otherwise.
You may want to visit the library or bookstore and pick up a
copy of the Nolo Press book on Neighbor Law.
An obvious answer to your question is that you can ask your
insurer about the coverage.
The question I have for you is why you would consider
damaging the relationship you have with your neighbor over
a couple of dead trees? Even if you have to pay to have the
trees removed, it is the correct and polite, and neighborly,
thing to do. Your trees are your responsibility.
Your homeowners policy undoubtedly requires you to perform
maintenance and repair problems that you know about. If a tree
you realized was leaning finally falls down, certainly this
could be construed as maintenance you failed to perform. Read
your policy. Homeowners insurance is supposed to cover true,
I'm not sure why you think it's ethical to transfer
responsibility for a problem you are aware of to your insurer.
Not to mention, waiting until the tree falls puts your neighbor
at risk of injury from a tree falling on his home - do you
really want to risk this? Your neighbor's request seems
perfectly reasonable to me.
You should check directly with your insurance provider to see
what is covered. Have you considered also that if the trees
are large enough for you to worry about fence damage, they are
probably large enough to cause human injury --possibly even
kill someone. I think you are being somewhat short-sighted not
to consider that possibility. You might be liable for your
neighbors injuries--not to mention the ethics of failing to
prevent a forseeable accident.
Please, you don't! want to risk someone getting hurt. Be
respectful and considerate. Take care of the trees. You may
think you will save money by letting the insurance pay for it
after the damage is done, but more likly, your insurance will go
up. Try collaborating with your neighbor. Maybe they would be
willing to pay for some of the work if they enjoyed some
Uhh, forgive me if I'm wrong, but it seems that your thinking
goes like this: I don't want to spend the money to cut down those
dead and leaning trees, so I'll just wait until they fall on my
neighbor's house and then I'll let my insurance pay for the
damage. If so, I respectfully submit that your thinking
is--please pardon me--selfish as well as shortsighted. What if
someone gets hurt by the falling trees? Not only would you feel
terrible (I assume), but you could be bankrupted if your
insurance coverage doesn't meet the medical needs of the injured
person. And even if the only thing injured is a fence, you're
still going to get bit in the butt if you claim the damages
through your insurance. Your rates will go up, and in today's
climate, you may very well be subsequently dropped by your
insurance company (Allstate recently tried to drop us because we
had two small theft claims in a period of less than five years.
It's the norm these days.)
For what it's worth, our neighbor's tree had some branches that
were bumping against our house. After asking his permission, WE
hired a tree person to trim the branches in question. When the
same tree was subsequently blown over in a recent windstorm and
actually fell against our house, HE immediately--that
afternoon--got someone out to cut the whole thing down.
I think you absolutely have an obligation to take down those trees.
In regards to your leaning trees, I think you should cut them
down. Although it is true that your insurance will cover it, you
are being rather impolite by assuming that your neighbor will
not mind the damage it does to his house or yard! What if one of
your trees causes damage to his roof and it is raining? His hand
made rug is ruined, his precious porcelain vase is broken, his
house is now very cold...he will be furious! That is a MAJOR
inconvenience which could have been avoided if you have kept up
your yard properly.
I think that being a good neighbor requires you to consider the
damage and trouble your trees would cause your neighbor and do
what is necessary to prevent that.
What a timely question! In last week's wind/rain storms, one of our
snapped off and was hurled into out neighbors yard, destroying the
front of his
garage and decimating a 75 year old maple tree. Luckily, no one was
the damage was minimal. The trouble with falling trees is that you
don't get to decide which way or when they fall.
To my surprise, our insurance did not cover this incident. It was
Act of God that created a falling object and our neighbors homeowners
insurance is covering the damage done to the garage. (They are also
his rates as a result, which seems so unfair, but is the topic of
AND, neither insurance company covered the cost of removing the cedar
maple. You literally couldn't get to his house, but his insurance
stated that they insured his house, not his tree or landscaping.
were under no obligation to pay for anything, we felt it was
appropriate to pay
for removing both trees at a cost of about $1600 to us.
Now in our case, we are talking about a healthy tree that we could not
would do this damage. Not tending to dead and/or leaning trees could
seen as negligence and leave you open to a lawsuit - especially since
pointed it out to you and asked you to take care of it.
IMHO - it's better to be safe than sorry. Remove your dead trees.
Take care of
the other trees that are leaning. Show some good faith that you are
about the safety and well-being of your neighbor and his property. It
protect you and keep your neighborhood relations in good standing.
Hope this helps!
Let's see -- because your neighbor has put you on warning, you
are indeed liable if a tree falls on your neighbors property.
I'm not sure how tall your tree is, but beware! If a tree falls
and kills or injures someone, it would be your fault both
morally and legally. Your homeowners insurance would cover the
damage up to the limits of the policy (most likely) but if you
really want to be certain you should ask your insurance broker
if your policy would cover these things.
Your best bet would be to get an arborist to come take a look at
your tree. Most arborists will come out and give a free
estimate. If an arborist says that the tree is not a risk, then
they assume the liability of a future tree failure. And, most
importantly, tree removal is not the only option. Structural
pruning can definitely improve tree safety!
We recently had Maxwell Klump remove a large and hazardous 100'
cypress tree. It was expensive, but his bid was low compared to
the other 5 bids we obtained. Here is his info -- I highly
Maxwell Tree Service
- Candace (arborist in training)
We have two really large trees hanging over our neighbors' property (as
well as our own house). I asked my insurance company about our
liability if a limb falls on the neighbors' house. They said PROVIDED
could demonstrate that I'd routinely maintained the trees by
inspection and trimming, then a falling branch is considered an ''act
God'', and they will cover the damage. However, it seems unlikely that
dead or leaning tree that you have declined to remove after your
neighbor has requested it would fall into that category. Besides,
someone could be hurt or killed if they're under the tree when it
Sorry, I am afraid that it is your ethical and financial responsibility
or remove the trees before they do any damage. If they were healthy
trees that the neighbors wanted trimmed for view enhancement it is
reasonable to expect them to pay for this service. But it is your
responsibility not to endanger your neighbors or their property.
--circumspect tree hugger
We have a tree on our property, some branches of which
extend onto a neighbor's property. The neighbor would like
to trim the branches to increase sunlight. What's the norm
around here for paying for that trimming -- does he pay, do
we, or do we share the costs? (I know he has the legal
right to cut them and does not have a legal right to demand
payment; I just want to know how good neighbors
My husband, Richard Trout, UC campus arborist and consulting
arborist, gave me the following answer:
Who pays varies, but the rule of thumb is that the person
who benefits pays for the trimming. If the tree does not
loom over and dominate the neighbor's property, the neighbor
typically pays. But it gets tricky when you consider the
issue of how much growth over a neighbor's property is
reasonable. If a tree cuts off all sun to a backyard, then
it is often reasonable for the owner of the tree to pay, or
to split the difference. And, if there is encroachment over
a neighbor's roof, for example, then it is reasonable for
the tree owner to pay.
A couple of things to consider. If the neighbor wants to
cut so much that the form and/or health of the tree is
affected, the tree owner may not wish to pay. And, the tree
trimmer's client is the person who writes the check. Many
times, a tree owner will pay, in order to ensure control
over just what gets cut, and to make sure that the job is
well done. Nolo Press has a good book ''Neighbor Law,'' which
deals with trees among other subjects. It covers common
sense reasonableness and also addresses legal issues. For
example, have you considered the possibility that your
neighbor hires an uninsured person to cut your tree, who
then falls out of it and is injured? Who is liable? Not that
that ever happens, but these things should be worked out
ahead of time.
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