JK-Q&A: Do I have to trim my tree because my neighbor says so?

A friend contacted me with this question:

What was that? Ahh, just the panic alarm on the new caddy. I'm sure it's fine.

I have a weeping willow in my back yard and some of the branches hang over my neighbor’s fence, and he told my wife yesterday that we need to pay someone to trim the tree to prevent the braches from falling in his yard and supposedly killing his grass. My question is, do I by law have to trim the tree at my expense?

The short answer is NO.  In this situation, my friend is not legally obligated to trim his tree.  But, it is important to know some of the consequences of doing nothing.

1.  The neighbor has a right to protect and enjoy his own property.  At the same time, the neighbor has no right to encroach on my friend’s property.  Section I, Article I of the Ohio Constitution provides that : “All men are, by nature free and independent and have certain inalienable rights, [including] acquiring, possessing and protecting property…” This Article (and ample Ohio case law), provides that the neighbor may undertake reasonable  steps to protect his property or exclude others from its use and enjoyment.

What does that mean?  The neighbor might grab a pruner and go to town trimming the tree himself!  But, he needs to be cautious.  The neighbor is only within his rights to trim the branches that physically extend onto his property and the neighbor cannot kill or cripple the tree.  A neighbor exercising reasonable care and only cutting back the branches that cross onto his property is probably safe.   My friend may be left with a lopsided tree, but he didn’t have to do the work or pay anyone.

If the neighbor cuts a branch (or even a part of a branch) that is over my friend’s property, the neighbor may be guilty of a fourth degree misdemeanor pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 901.51 and 901.99, and would owe my friend double the amount of damages in a civil claim, such as the replacement cost of the tree x2. Continue reading