I live in Chesapeake, Virginia and I haven't been able to find a reference as to what my legal options are when it comes to a neighbor's tree and my yard. I could only find a "general rule" for America that says one can trim the portions of a neighbor's tree that hangs over your yard, however you have to offer the trimmings to the neighbor if they want it.

Its a magnolia tree, which sheds leaves year round. Its hard to see in the picture below, but all those yellow spots in the green leaves are dead leaves about to fall. If I don't mow or rake at least every other week, my backyard looks like it's the middle of fall year-round. It also drops seed pods - similar to pine cones, but much denser - that get stuck in my lawnmower. The tree shades the ground near its trunk, so nothing grows there. There is roughly a 20 foot radius of dirt, leaves, and weeds that looks terrible. That bottom branch has grown significantly over the last two years and is staying low, which is causing the dead area to grow. The Sun rises from the right side of the picture, so the tree in front of the magnolia blocks much of the light. That means, the magnolia has to creep into my yard to get light.

As you can see, about half - and likely more - of the tree is over my yard. I would love to get rid of the tree entirely, to keep my yard from the constant rain of leaves and pods, but I don't think I can do that. If I were to trim off all the parts over my yard, I would expect the tree to die, which I think my neighbor would not be happy about. At the least, I could get rid of that bottom branch, but that wouldn't solve much of my significant annoyance with this tree.

What are my options?

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  • 5
    Have you talked to your neigjbour? Maybe they are willing to reduce it's height and trim it back without a fight?
    – davidgo
    May 12, 2018 at 19:38
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    @davidgo Not yet. I actually havent spoken to them since them moved in a few weeks ago. I could ask them and they might be perfectly agreeable. However, I think its wise to know all my options beforehand. I might be well within my legal rights and they may be financially responsible. Or I may be in the right and I am financially responsible. Whatever the case may be, knowing the facts is paramount. I would much rather go into the conversation asking politely, but if necessary, showing them the law stating that the choice isnt up to them.
    – Keltari
    May 12, 2018 at 19:56
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    They're not financially responsible to save you some raking. If you want it down, it would be kind of you (maximizing the probability of the simplest solution) to offer to pay the costs of the removal (if there are indeed costs).
    – WBT
    May 13, 2018 at 0:54
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    Also, if it's that much of a pain to clean up after, and the neighbors are new enough to not realize this yet, be sure to present the labor-saving benefits to them of your proposal.
    – WBT
    May 13, 2018 at 1:12

1 Answer 1


There are a number of rules related to trespassing vegetation, reviewed in Lane v. W.J. Curry & Sons, 92 S.W.3d 355. Virginia law was set in Fancher v. Fagella, 650 S.E.2d 519, that

encroaching trees and plants are not nuisances merely because they cast shade, drop leaves, flowers, or fruit, or just because they happen to encroach upon adjoining property either above or below the ground.   However, 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.   If so, the owner of the tree or plant may be held responsible for harm caused to [adjoining property], and may also be required to cut back the encroaching branches or roots, assuming the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance.

so under the circumstances, you can't make him do anything. However, the court continues that

the adjoining landowner may, at his own expense, cut away the encroaching vegetation to the property line whether or not the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance or is otherwise causing harm or possible harm to the adjoining property.

You are, however, responsible for damage to the tree caused by such trimming, and you can't trespass onto his property to trim it (fences are often an approximation of property lines)

  • 2
    That second quote doesn't say he's held responsible for damages, it says that he can do what he wants out of his own pocket, right? May 12, 2018 at 23:34
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    That's correct, the quote doesn't say that. That's a basic common law principle, that you are liable for damage that you cause. It actually underlies the right to cut away encroaching veg: you can mitigate harm that another person causes, though you have to take responsibility for how you do it.
    – user6726
    May 13, 2018 at 0:00
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    Thinking about it a bit, if the OP cut off so much that the tree died, it seems like the only way they could be held responsible for it is to pay for cutting it down. If the OP did this and willingly paid for removal (They say they'd like to just get rid of it, so this doesn't seem out of line with what the OP hopes to achieve.), is there anything else the neighbor could do about it? Obviously, the ethics of doing so are questionable, but I'm just wondering about the legal side of it.
    – jpmc26
    May 13, 2018 at 2:39
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    @jpmc26, if they cut off so much that the tree died, they'd be responsible for the cost of removing it, plus any economic/aesthetic value of the tree.
    – Mark
    May 13, 2018 at 19:27
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    Could there be any city by-laws pertaining to removal of trees this size?
    – DJohnM
    May 14, 2018 at 5:33

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