Can My Neighbor Force Me to Trim Branches Overhanging His Property?

Full Question:

I asked my neighbor in 2001 if I could plant a hedge between our property. He said it was okay. Since that time, almost 9 years, he has trimmed the hedge that has passed through the fence onto his property without complaint. Recently, we had a falling out about his children's access to my property and the destruction of some of the plants in front of my house. He became very irate. I denied his children access to my property. Now he wants me to trim the hedge that grows through the fence. I have talked to the head of the HOA about this and initially recieved a positive response but now they are avoiding the issue. I have just received a letter giving me 14 days to trim the hedge (or else, I don't know what). I no longer feel safe entering his property and honestly, I think we would both be best served if we don't have to interact anymore. I also don't want to give him any grounds for reciprocity. What does the law say about trimming the hedge and what is the best way to handle this problem.
06/29/2009   |   Category: Trees   |   State: Florida   |   #17245


A landowner has a duty to prevent nuisances which might adversely affect the property of an adjoining landowner. A nuisance is a substantial interference with the right to use and enjoy land, which may be intentional, negligent or ultra hazardous in origin, and must be a result of a defendant's activity. If a nuisance interferes with another person's quiet or peaceful or pleasant use of his/her property, it may be the basis for a lawsuit for damages and/or an injunction ordering the person or entity causing the nuisance to stop or limit the activity. Abatement of a nuisance may involve elimination of a nuisance by removal, repair, rehabilitation or demolition. Liability to an adjoining landowner for injuries resulting from the improper use of one's property has been founded upon the legal theory of nuisance.

The encroachment of a hedge on the land of an adjoining landowner causing damage could be held to be a nuisance and result in damages against the landowner on which the hedge was located. A landowner is generally held to the duty of common prudence in maintaining hedges on his or her property in such a way as to prevent injury to his or her neighbor's property. Encroaching trees and plants may be regarded as a nuisance when they cause actual harm or pose an imminent danger of actual harm to adjoining property. In such a case, the owner of the hedge may be held responsible for harm caused by it, and may also be required to cut back the encroaching branches or roots, assuming the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance. Real damage must be shown to result from the encroaching hedge and leaves.

Generally, however, in cases where hedges belonging to one property owner damage or destroy adjacent property, the hedge owner is only responsible for damage if some failure to maintain the hedge contributed to the damage. If the damage was solely the result of a thunderstorm or act of God, the hedge owner will not be responsible, as the damage could not have been foreseen. If the hedge owner allows the hedge to grow so that it uproots the fence, it would be considered an encroachment onto the adjacent property. In that instance, the hedge owner would be required to remove the offending hedge. A boundary hedge is one planted on the boundary line itself and should not be removed without mutual agreement. Leaves which fall off and end up on adjacent property are considered a natural occurrence and are the responsibility of the landowner on whose property they ultimately come to rest.

Property owners in every state have the right to cut off branches and roots that stray into their property, in most cases this is the only help that is provided by the law, even when damage from a tree is substantial. A property owner who finds a neighbor's hedge encroaching must first warn or give notice to the hedge owner prior to commencing work and give the hedge owner the chance to correct the problem. If the hedge owner does nothing, the tree can still be trimmed. As a general rule, a property owner who trims an encroaching hedge belonging to a neighbor can trim only up to the boundary line and must obtain permission to enter the hedge owner's property, unless the branches threaten to cause imminent and grave harm. Additionally, the property owner cannot cut the entire hedge down and cannot destroy the structural integrity or the cosmetic symmetry and appeal of a hedge by improper trimming. Local laws should be consulted for applicable requirements in your area.

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