If tree limbs, shrubbery, etc., is rooted in your neighbor’s property, it is your neighbor’s responsibility to keep it trimmed and maintained within the confines of his or her property line. When a tree branch spreads beyond one neighbor’s property into the yard of another in Pennsylvania, this is considered trespass. In fact, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has held that overhanging branches and trees which intrude neighboring property lines is considered a “continuing” trespass. Jones v. Wagner, 425 Pa. Super. 102 (1993).
As a landowner, you may use self-help to remove encroaching tree limbs. However, you can only do so to the extent that the limbs are actually coming across your property line and you may not trespass on the neighbor’s property to take such measures. Your right is to trim back the overgrowth to the extent of encroachment. It should also be noted that there is no requirement your property is harmed prior to taking such corrective measures.
As a practical manner, you are not entitled to and should not cut back tree limbs in a reckless manner. Therefore, if you don’t know how to do it properly, you should seek the assistance of a professional. If you go the route of self-help and incur expenses in doing so such as that described in the last sentence, you may file suit to recoup those expenses from your neighbor.
You may also seek what is called equitable relief, meaning a court order compelling your neighbor to remove trees to the extent of encroachment and seeking appropriate incidental and consequential damages.
It should be emphasized that the law is not always clear in these situations. Therefore, a first step should always be approaching the neighbor and asking them if they’ll remove the limbs themselves. If not, the next question is whether they are OK with you cutting them or hiring someone to do the cutting? Regardless the outcome of this conversation, document this conversation with your neighbor in a letter mailed to his or her attention and keep a copy for yourself.
If your neighbor refuses to take any corrective action and objects to you doing so, it is advisable to seek the aid of legal professionals. Perhaps all it will take is a letter written from an attorney to convince the neighbor of the error of his or her ways and their potential liability.
If you’re facing a dispute with your neighbor or neighbors, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are prepared to guide you through the murky waters which often accompany such quarrels. Call today at (215)-947-6240 for a free initial consultation, or contact us online.
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