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Can I cut my neighbor's tree?

Proarb, your certified tree specialists!

Your Rights In New Zealand 

There is a simple statement of fact, which is where we start from. If you are a landowner, then you have a right to enjoy and use your land in a way that most people think is reasonable. At the same time, you cannot do anything that interferes with your neighbor’s right to do the same. 

Generally speaking, Trees are a pretty good thing, and they provide food and shelter for our wildlife. They improve the quality of the air we breathe, and they make our local area more attractive. Who doesn’t like trees? 

However, if your neighbor has trees that are growing into your property, you might have a different view. 

Trees can block your drains, damage boundary walls, and the foundations of your house. They can block off that stunning view you once had, and leave your garden forever in shadow. They can even fall and do significant damage to your property. 

It’s obvious, right? If your neighbor’s trees are causing any of these problems, you go and have a chat and explain your worries. Your neighbor might not even be aware that there is an issue, and most people are reasonable, so he will probably work with you to resolve the problem. If the tree needs cutting, he might well just do it for you. If he is busy and you are willing, then he may just give you the ok to resolve the problem. 

Having said that, you may be unlucky enough to have a totally disagreeable character living next door who just wants to be obstinate, and then you have to consider things more in-depth. 

Can I cut my neighbor’s tree root? 

If the roots of your neighbor’s tree grow onto your land, you can legally cut them back to the boundary line. The legal term for this is called an abatement. If you are worried about what your neighbor’s actions might be, if he sees you doing this, you can choose to do it through the district court and get an order for the trimming or cutting back. 

You must do this without causing any damage to the health of the tree. Do not try poisoning the tree or any other tricks. Do not trespass on his land. In fact, it is best if things get as far as the law to call in a qualified arborist to do the job correctly. Bear in mind that you are probably not going to get any compensation for any costs that you incur. 

However, if the tree’s roots cause damage to your property or a falling branch causes damage or injury, then you do have a claim to be recompensed. 

Can I cut branches from my neighbor’s tree? 

The same concept of abatement applies to branches that are overhanging your property. You can cut them back, but only as far as the boundary, not one inch more. You must do no more than is required to abate the nuisance. 

What if the Trunk of the Tree crosses the boundary? 

This is not an uncommon situation. If the tree is planted on the boundary, then chances are you are a co owner. That does not mean you can just choose to chop it down. Hopefully, you can come to a mutual decision with your neighbor, but if not, then it’s back to the District Court where you apply for an order to cut the tree down. 

Your Local Council Unless the tree is a protected tree, your council is pretty unlikely to want to get involved in your fight with your neighbor. In fact, you may want to check that the tree causing all the problems is not protected before you start to even think about cutting it. 

If you cannot get a mutually agreed solution, you can try mediation (where you decide on a solution) or arbitration where a decision can be imposed. But this is going to cost you money, and a friendly beer with your neighbor is by far the best solution. 

Final Thought 

You might expect me to say this as an arborist, but if you are going to be cutting someone else’s tree, branches, or roots and they are not too happy about it. It is probably best that you do not do some hatchet job yourself where you risk damaging parts of the tree that are not yours to touch. Get a professional to do the job properly, so your neighbor won’t be upset with you. 

We also offer tree pruning and hedge trimming in Canterbury, Rangiora and Kaiapoi.

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