Must I cut off the top of my trees because my neighbor wants the view preserved?

Check the local rules and regulations -- you may not be legally required to trim your trees.

Question

Years ago, I bought my house partially because of the beautiful trees in the backyard – pines, redwoods, and birch. They add a huge amount of charm to my home, and to the neighborhood. However, I just received a letter from my new neighbor claiming that the trees block his view of the mountains and insisting that I cut the tops off the trees by three feet. Am I required to comply?

Answer

Whether you are required to comply may depend on local or municipal rules, including whether you live in a community with a neighborhood association. Some neighborhood associations may require particular maintenance of trees and plants, either for aesthetic or safety reasons. Moreover, some cities may require that particular views be preserved, and allow a complaining neighbor to go to court and file for an order requiring that a tall tree may be cut.

However, such local or city regulations are the exception rather than the rule. If you have lived in the home for many years and are aware of no such regulations, chances are, your neighbor is out of luck. He purchased his home knowing that the trees on your property block his view. Unless your trees are causing an imminent safety concern (for example, due to falling branches), your neighbor probably doesn't have a legal cause of action against you.

If your neighbor is passionate enough, though, he may still put you through the paces of full-blown litigation, which can be time-consuming and expensive for you to defend.

Notwithstanding the fact that your neighbor might not be able to force you to trim your trees, don’t immediately crumple his letter. Consider that he might care more about his view than you care about your trees. Perhaps you could strike a deal where you both benefit. For example, if your neighbor were to pay you a certain amount of money – or perhaps give up a coveted parking space, or let you use his tennis courts – you’ll agree to trim your trees. The negotiation might not be zero-sum, and you could both stand to gain.

For more information about trees and neighbors, read Nolo's Trees and Neighbors FAQ.

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