What can you do when a neighbor’s tree shades your solar panels?
What do you do if a neighbor’s large tree leans dangerously over your roof, and home?
Of course everybody loves trees and the local jurisdictions protect trees past a certain size. So even offending trees can be protected… You cannot do whatever you want with trees, whether they are on your property or on the neighbor’s property. It turns out that the answers to those questions are not always straightforward or obvious.
A long time ago, in 1886, a legal case established the rule with regards to encroaching trees: tree branches overhanging on your side from a neighbor’s property were something that you could cut, right above your property line. This was extended several years later to include the roots (because of the damage they could do on your side). However, several other cases happening later on made it clear that you cannot do that indiscriminately: you cannot kill or otherwise endanger a neighbor’s tree. Also, any cutting better be well on your side of the fence, lest you’d be accused of trespassing … hum… one can see that it is a good idea to get a legal opinion on the matter, should you have such a problem.
In some cases it seems that past legal disputes have made it clear that it goes down in a certain way: in the instance of solar panels, often times the one who wins is the one who was there first: the solar panels, or the trees. Also, when a neighbor’s tree branches invade your property, it is fairly accepted that you can cut off whatever is in your yard; -but be careful: you cannot endanger the neighbor’s tree in the process. If a neighbor’s tree dumps tons of leaves on your property, what do you do? Do you have a recourse? Yes, in certain cases where you can prove that it is a nuisance to you. - however, proving a nuisance is not always so easy.
One of them is to find a mediator, and this service is often offered by the City in which you live, in cooperation with such non-profit organizations as Project Sentinel which deal with dispute resolutions. As an example, in Mountain View, one would find such a resource through their City mediation page.
Also, here is an interesting blog on tree problems, by Simon Offord, from a local Real Estate Law Office (Peter N. Brewer); this article reviews various situations in careful terms, and they also have other blogs on neighbor issues which I found most interesting.
Bottom line, it is better to review the whole situation carefully before acting too fast when it comes to neighbors’ relations.
Thank you for reading,
Silicon Valley real estate specialist
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A worthy local non-profit to remember: Community Services Agency in Mountain View.