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oak-treeRecently I had a listing in Sunnyvale where an enormous tree graced not only the front yard of my clients’ house, but stretched over a next door neighbor’s yard and even over the neighbor’s roof. We got the home I’d listed sold quickly,  but prior to closing, the neighbor complained about the limbs.

The sellers, wanting to close escrow on time, agreed to trim the large bough that threatened her roof. They only wish that she had mentioned it sooner so that it could have been a “non issue” during the time of the sale. Ideal would have been a request in spring, which is the better, healthier time for trimming a tree.

And more recently, something similar happened in Los Gatos (with a home not for sale). A property manager of a tenant-occupied house showed up on the doorstep of a tree owner whose large tree arches over the fence. The property manager demanded that the tree be trimmed and that the tree owners pay for it. “It is your responsibility,” she asserted. (Interestingly, she showed up with a gardener – not a tree professional – and had no business card so that she could later be contacted about this issue. So it wasn’t the most amicable approach.)

My understanding of laws around trees and property lines was simple: the neighbors can cut the tree if they want to back to the property line, but the tree owners don’t have to pay to cut it unless it is truly damaging or about to damage the others’ property. If the neighbors harm the tree while pruning it, they can be liable for damages.

But just to be sure, I phoned the California Association of Realtors’ Legal Hotline and spoke with an attorney about it. My understanding was correct: the lawyer cited case law and verified that the tree owners can’t prevent the neighbors from trimming the tree if they want and that the neighbors cannot force the tree owners to trim it unless it is truly causing (or immediately threatening to cause) damage.

The property manager was mistaken and out of line.

A friendly phone call and inquiry about tree maintenance goes a long way toward neighborliness. Most tree owners will take good care of their trees and do pruning in spring, and will discuss the timing with their neighbors so that it is convenient for the arborist to also clean up any dropped branches in adjacent yards. Open communication is always helpful for neighbor relations. It helps when requests come in a pleasant way without rushing or pressuring. But that would be true about any issue, whether it’s trees, fences, noice, odors, junky cars or anything else.