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Your Neighbor Doesn't Like Your Tree: What Should You Do?

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You may have recently learned that a tree on your property -- one that you really like -- doesn't make your neighbor anywhere near as happy. In fact, they have asked you to remove the tree, saying that it blocks their views. Should you remove the tree or is there anything else you can do? What real estate law could compel you to remove the tree? 

Find Out if Your City Has a View Ordinance

What's a view ordinance? It's essentially a city law that prohibits one neighbor from doing anything that will block the attractive view of another -- whether that's growing a tree too tall, putting up a fence or adding on to a residence. Popular in places like coastal communities where having an ocean view can dramatically increase the value of your property, view ordinances are somewhat less likely to exist in other areas.

With a view ordinance in place, the city can require that you trim or remove a tree or other vegetation that is impacting your neighbor's ability to see the ocean, mountain or other views. You will be responsible for the cost of doing so.

Check Your Homeowner's Association Rules

If you're subject to the restrictions of a homeowner's association (HOA), there may be something in that group's rules about how tall you can grow your trees. Your neighbor may be within their rights to go to the HOA and ask them to enforce any regulations about tree height, species or anything else. 

What if the HOA does restrict the type or height of tree you're allowed on your property? You'll need to get it trimmed soon -- the HOA may also be within its rights to hire a service to do the work and send you the bill. 

Make Sure There's No Easement

An easement is a written contract that spells out how people other than the property owner are allowed to use the land. An easement may be granted if, for example, a driveway runs through one neighbor's lot before going to the other neighbor's property. Neighbor B is permitted to drive through Neighbor A's lot in order to get to their own. An easement can also be set up to protect views by giving one neighbor the right to have a view through the lot of another neighbor.  

Setting up an easement, if there's not one in place, may be a good way to work out any future disputes. A real estate lawyer can set one up for you.

No existing law, easement or ordinance? Your neighbor might be out of luck. If you want to be particularly kind, you may suggest splitting the cost of hiring an arborist to professionally trim the tree. You can also hire a real estate lawyer (such as Colin W. Robinson Attorney) to put a binding agreement in place that spells out exactly how and when the tree must be trimmed and who bares the cost. That type of agreement can save you time and energy in the future if there is a dispute with the same neighbor or with another person nearby.