Trimming trees is crucial for both the health of the tree and the safety of your family. Large, heavy branches overhanging a home, garage or yard can pose a serious threat. If a storm hits, how much do you worry about those branches coming down? If you do, you’re probably proactive about trimming your own trees and keeping every part of your property in pristine condition.

But what if the tree belongs to someone else?

Say you have a large property in a nice neighborhood. There is plenty of open yard between you and your neighbor to the west, but your neighbor to the east is much closer. To create some privacy, they have planted a string of large oak trees. You’re grateful for the privacy, but one of those trees now has a huge branch growing out over the fence and over your yard. Are you allowed to trim it back?

If the tree extends over your property line, you can trim it back to that point. You cannot go any further. This could mean that the limb grows back in time, but you are within your rights to cut it back to the line and keep it from your home.

You may still find some complex issues, though. For instance, perhaps you trim the tree back and your neighbor becomes outraged that you “ruined” their property. This can lead to a serious dispute and may even end up in court. Or, perhaps you think the entire tree is going to fall down and it is leaning toward your home. You can’t touch the portion that is still on the other property until it falls, so what options do you have to protect yourself and your house?

The best place to begin is by talking to your neighbor and explaining the situation. Unfortunately, they may not want to hear what you have to say or they may not respect your opinion. That’s when things begin to get a bit more complicated.

An argument over a tree may sound minor, but tree law is important and these types of disputes could center around tens of thousands of dollars of potential property damage. This is something you definitely want to take seriously, and you must know all of the legal options you have.