Neighbors & Trees & Yards

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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Our tree roots damaging neighbor's yard?

Oct 2012

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' high.

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 is. Sue

Solar Access vs. Neighbors Trees

Dec 2011

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. Linda

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. anon

Neighbors Tree Falling Into Our Yard

March 2011

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 they do. Looming trees

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 pretty satisfying.

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 department?

Tall trees along fence line blocking our sun

Nov 2010

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. C

Sidewalk trees in Kensington: must I trim them?

Nov 2009

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? Thanks

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. kl

Call the town offices. Usually, pruning street trees is a municipal responsibility. Ray

This is the very reason why I will never live anywhere unincorporated again. There is no easy path to get your questions answered. You are definitely responsible for the sidewalk. I can't see a reason why you would not be responsible for the trees on the sidewalk. I believe this is the group that 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.

Neighbors cutting back our trees

August 2008

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 advice/help!

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. Been there

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 door... kevin

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 the tree.

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 neighbors happy. 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 side. :) 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. Edward

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?)

Neighbors cutting our hedge

May 2008

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 happened. 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 recourse.

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 yard. 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 there. 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. Debbie

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 upsetting. 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

Neighbor uses pesticides/chemicals on their lawn

April 2008

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 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 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

Neighbors' tree roots and our foundation

Oct 2007

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 course)

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 responsibility. 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.) -anon

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... dana

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. former landscaper

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 that's 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 birds and squirrels could stay? anon

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! Cece

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

Neighbor sprayed our yard, killed our plants

April 2007

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. Anon

Neighbor's responsibility to maintain tree heights?

Nov 2006

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 vistas 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 there:

If this link doesn't work, go to the City of Berkeley home page at 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 anon

Neighbor's trees making a mess in our yard & blocking view

June 2006

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? anon

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 anon

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? Leigh

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 Karen

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 a

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 property line)

Neighbor wants to plant trees that will block our view

June 2005

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 backyard.

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. anonymous

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. Anon.

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. Amy


Before your neighbor plants the trees, give the East Bay Community Mediation a call. ( 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. anon

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 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. Ann

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. Been there

Neighbors may have cut trees on our property

Nov 2004

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 cryptic.

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 line is.

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 our property.

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) 947-1051.

Needless to say, the tree was on our property, and turned out that we had MORE property than previously thought! Good luck! Maya

Neighbor wants us to take out palm out

March 2004

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. stumped

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

Our trees are leaning into neighbor's yard

March 2004

Hi all, 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 correct?
2. Do I have any obligation to do anything now to take the tree down?

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 your feelings.
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. anon

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. Heather

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, unforseeable ''accidents.'' 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. homeowner

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. anon

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 benefit. sunsol

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. Happy Neighbor

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. denise

What a timely question! In last week's wind/rain storms, one of our Cedar's 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 hurt, and the damage was minimal. The trouble with falling trees is that you usually don't get to decide which way or when they fall. To my surprise, our insurance did not cover this incident. It was considered an Act of God that created a falling object and our neighbors homeowners insurance is covering the damage done to the garage. (They are also raising his rates as a result, which seems so unfair, but is the topic of another post.) AND, neither insurance company covered the cost of removing the cedar or the maple. You literally couldn't get to his house, but his insurance company stated that they insured his house, not his tree or landscaping. Although we 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 forsee would do this damage. Not tending to dead and/or leaning trees could be seen as negligence and leave you open to a lawsuit - especially since they have 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 concerned about the safety and well-being of your neighbor and his property. It will protect you and keep your neighborhood relations in good standing. Hope this helps! Feeling fortunate

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 recommend him! Maxwell Tree Service 510-652-3473 - 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 I could demonstrate that I'd routinely maintained the trees by professional inspection and trimming, then a falling branch is considered an ''act of God'', and they will cover the damage. However, it seems unlikely that a 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 falls. Sorry, I am afraid that it is your ethical and financial responsibility to trim 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

Who Pays for Tree Trimming?

August 2003

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 behave.) Thanks! Chris

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. Stefanie