If my neighbor's tree branches hang over my yard, can I trim them?  

Can I trim branches of my neighbors tree if it is encroaching on my property? Can my neighbor force me to trim branches overhanging his/her property? Am I liable for the cleanup of a tree or leaves from my yard that fell across my neighbor's driveway?  If my neighbor's leaves keep blowing into my yard, do I have a good nuisance claim?

I regularly encounter questions on pruning and removing vines and trees along property lines as a landscape designer in urban gardens. Within a New York City backyard, property lines can be somewhat indistinguishable in a small Brooklyn brownstone garden or a Manhattan townhouse garden. Consulting a survey to ascertain the accurate property line is a necessary beginning to establish ownership of the plant material in question. After that, I recommend clients have reasonable discussions with their neighbors and try to resolve the issue in a mutually beneficial manner.  While that is not always possible, it’s certainly worth a try.

The legal issues can be complex. The general understanding is that you have the right to trim plant material (woody or non-woody) that encroach along your property line. If you destroy the plant, damage its health or integrity you can be liable for damages. Check with local authorities or counsel for the most accurate interpretations of the local law.

Here are posting and legal findings on the following questions...

Most importantly, consider tree care as preventative and necessary.  Arborists are familiar with proper pruning techniques and a plants responses to it.  As a New York City garden designer I begin every project by consulting with an arborist on any existing mature trees. Decisions on pruning can become aesthetic as trees have a natural form and growth tendency that is more appealing to the eye. (The exception being pollarding, topiary, pleaching and bonsai.)  A landscape designer or garden designer will collaborate with an arborist to make aesthetic decisions on pruning that take into consideration the health of the tree and protect the safety of all surrounding property owners.

As a means of regular maintenance in a condensed urban environment it’s wise to consult with an arborist even if you are not working with a residential landscape designer to locate any storm damage which can be potentially harmful to your home or property.