Who is Responsible for Cutting Overhanging Tree Branches

In the densely populated areas of New York City, disputes between neighbors over overhanging tree branches are not uncommon. Knowing your legal rights and your responsibilities will help you handle these situations amicably and legally. This post provides an overview of what NYC property owners need to know about overhanging tree branches.

Understanding Your Rights

As a property owner in New York City, you have the inherent right to use your property, including the space above it. This principle, often summarized by the Latin phrase “cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos” (whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs to Heaven and down to Hell), grants you control over the airspace above your land.

  • It’s (Usually) About the Trunk: Typically, the responsibility for trimming branches falls on the property owner where the tree trunk is located.
  • Neighborly Negotiations: If the branches extend from a neighbor’s property, New York law gives you the right to trim them back to your property line. However, a friendly chat beforehand is always the best first step for maintaining good relations.
  • Condo/Apartment Considerations: For multi-family properties, check with your HOA or building management to determine who handles tree maintenance.
  • City Rules: Always consult your local ordinances regarding tree trimming to avoid fines or conflicts.

The Right to Self-Help

One of the key rights property owners have regarding overhanging tree branches is the right to self-help. This means you can trim the branches of a neighbor’s tree that extend onto your property. However, this right comes with the responsibility to avoid damaging the tree’s main support system. Actions should be limited to trimming branches and cannot include cutting down the tree or harming its health. For larger limbs we recommend calling a professional tree service to come take a look.

Limitations and Legal Considerations

While self-help allows for immediate action, there are significant limitations:

  • Avoid Damage: You must ensure that the trimming does not harm the tree’s overall health or stability.
  • Do Not Cross Property Lines: Any trimming or cutting should be strictly limited to the boundaries of your property.
  • Legal Precedents: Cases like Zimmerman v. Fredericks have established that while property owners can cut overhanging branches, they cannot claim ownership of the branches or any fruit that may hang from them.
  • Professionalism Helps: Having a tree service come in to work with you and the neighbor can often result in cost savings where everybody is happy.

Legal Precedents and Cases

Several court cases highlight the application of these principles in New York:

  • Zimmerman v. Fredericks (2015): Reaffirmed the right of property owners to engage in self-help to remove nuisances like overhanging branches but stressed that this must not damage the tree’s main support system.
  • Hynes v. NYCRCo. (1919): Established that overhanging branches that cross vertical boundary lines still belong to the tree’s owner, and the neighbor cannot appropriate the materials (like fruit).

FAQs About Overhanging Tree Branches

Q1: Can I trim my neighbor’s tree if it’s just touching but not technically overhanging my property? A: You can only trim branches that extend onto your property.

Q2: What should I do if trimming a tree might harm it? A: It’s best to consult with a professional tree service or seek mediation to resolve the situation without legal conflict.

Q3: Who pays for the trimming of overhanging branches? A: Generally, you would be responsible for the cost of trimming any branches on your side of the property line.


Understanding and respecting the legal boundaries concerning overhanging tree branches can help you maintain good relations with your neighbors while protecting your property rights. If you are unsure about how to handle a specific situation, consulting with a property attorney might be a good step.

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