My neighbor planted a pygmy date palm cluster fairly close to our common property line. Although the roots and cluster base are entirely on the neighbor's property, one of the trees in the cluster grows diagonally over the property line, such that all of the palm branches occur on our side of the property line.

I am aware that I am allowed to trim vegetation that crosses the property boundary; however, I am not allowed to perform trimming that would kill the tree. In this case, trimming the portion of the tree over the line would definitely kill it.

Can I compel my neighbor to have the tree removed (or relocated, at their discretion)? We are located in Florida, US, if that is pertinent to the answer.

I don't have an image of the actual plantings in question, but below is a good approximation of the size of the plantings, and degree that the tree crosses the boundary line (yellow line). Our property would be to the left of the line, neighbor's to the right. (For clarification, the trees are planted in ground, and there is no concrete around the property line; this is just an example image I found that approximates the size of the trees)

enter image description here

Background: My neighbor has complained that our landscaping/lawn maintenance company has crossed the property line during their work. Our landscaper disputes the neighbor's claims, but allows that they may have inadvertently stepped over the property line. This is possible, but not likely, as the neighbor's plantings are low, and it would be difficult to trim their plantings that cross the line from slightly over the line. Not to mention, pointless, as it is easier to trim the encroaching plants entirely from our property, than it is to stand on or near the property line.

Notwithstanding our neighbor's claim, he has crossed entirely to our property while trimming his plantings. When he attempted to confront us about our landscaper allegedly crossing over, he defended his own crossing over as allowed because he was maintaining his plantings.

The neighbor has sent a letter from his attorney stating that we are not allowed on his property without express written consent. Fine, we have no interest, nor need, to cross onto his property. However, we are incensed that he misrepresented the facts, and we feel he is essentially attempting to bully us into letting his plantings grow by vaguely claiming some of our trimmings have damaged the "heart" of the tree; and asserting our landscaper engaged in "conversion" (sigh).

Prior to my neighbor's belligerence, we were content to simply trim the low trees that crossed over the line; it wasn't much of a big deal. But now battle lines have been drawn.

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    Why not hire a tree trimmer. I have one of those palms and periodically cut down the the trucks as they grow into a walkway. Hardly phases the thing. – Pete B. Feb 17 '20 at 16:07
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    I would argue that if he's allowed onto your property to perform maintenance on a bordering tree - he should be cutting down the bit that encroaches on your land - that's the whole reason why people are allowed into a small margin of neighboring land in the first place. – Smock Feb 17 '20 at 17:36
  • @PeteB. Our landscaper is our tree trimmer. The problem is that trimming the part over the property line is the "heart" of the tree, before any palmates branch from the trunk. Such cutting would likely kill the tree, and our concern is that even though one is typically allowed to trim a tree crossing over the boundary, one is usually not allowed to kill the tree. – scottbb Feb 17 '20 at 17:55
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    @Smock He's not allowed onto our property. He has "allowed" himself onto our property while condemning our landscaper for stepping over the line (again, we disagree with his assertions, and the only proof I've seen is our neighbor flagrantly and openly coming onto our property (photo evidence); he has not provided photo evidence of our landscaper coming onto their property). – scottbb Feb 17 '20 at 17:57
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    @Smock Precisely, which is why I asked this question at Law-SE. I'm specifically interested in whether I'm able (or to what degree I'm able) to ask/require my neighbor to relocate/remove the encroaching plant. – scottbb Feb 18 '20 at 9:36

The only way to compel a neighbor to do something is to sue him and get the court to use force. In order to succeed in your lawsuit, you need to show that you have been harmed (annoyance/nuisance does not count). The courts are generally not sympathetic to battle lines being drawn, but might in principle listen if you show that the tree is harming you (not just annoying you). Even then, the court will order compensation for that damage and will not order the removal of the tree. The tree-owner has a duty to take reasonable care to maintain the tree, so they cannot just let it fall on your gazebo and say "oops". The problem is that the basic rule is that "a possessor of land is not liable to persons outside the land for a nuisance resulting from trees and natural vegetation growing on the land", but if a tree destroys your property, the courts also will not suppose that the neighbor has a right to negligently destroy your house. See Scott v McCarty, 41 So. 3d 989, Gallo v. Heller, 512 So. 2d 215. Therefore, a lawsuit would have to focus on the extent of actual damage – it has to be more than a nuisance. Also, the principle that "it is wiser to leave the individual to protect himself, if harm results to him from this exercise of another's right to use his property in a reasonable way" does not mean that you cannot trim the tree at all: you may be able to mitigate the problem without damaging the tree. You almost certainly will have to accept some level of "trespass" from the vegetation.

  • I appreciate and understand your statement, You almost certainly will have to accept some level of "trespass" from the vegetation. I'm not trying to be absolutist about all branches from his plants, believe me. I'm more than happy to let most of it be, and trim the most offending vegetation as needed. However, for this particular tree, all of the cover branches out from our side of the property line. If the benefit of the tree to my neighbor comes from seeing less of our property, then none of that benefit occurs on his property. Any branches that exist on his side start from our side. – scottbb Feb 19 '20 at 17:50
  • The tree-owner has a duty to take reasonable care to maintain the tree. If the owner cannot reasonably take care of the tree from his property (due to the almost entirety of it being over our property line) without coming onto our property, does that weigh on the decision of whether the tree causes harm to me (by virtue of requiring trespass in order to maintain it)? I guess it all hinges on the degree of reasonable, eh? =) – scottbb Feb 19 '20 at 17:58
  • A reasonable person may realize that the tree is very likely to cause expensive property damage to your structures, they would take action to eliminate the risk. They then have a duty to step back from the battle lines, or pay the price for inaction. You have a duty to mitigate the damage (allow the trespass), so you would have to step back from the battle lines as well. Or, if you can solve the problem by judicious trimming without damaging the tree, do that (but I assume that's not a viable solution). – user6726 Feb 19 '20 at 18:40

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