Believe it or not, one of the most common battlegrounds among neighbors relates to trees!
It’s pretty easy for trees to overgrow onto neighboring yards, causing eaves and branches to fall into your yard. In fact, this is happening to me right now, so I thought it would be a great topic to write about.
There are a host of questions that revolve around this situation, including can I cut down branches that cross my property line, can I force them to pay for this, and of course, the topic of this article, can I throw branches back into their yard?
Well, it turns out that it’s not such a simple question to answer.
In this article, I am going to cover whether you are allowed to throw a neighbor’s tree branches back into their yard. I will also discuss the legal landscape around this issue and also provide some practical tips on what you can do if you are facing this situation.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
As a general matter, you shouldn’t throw your neighbor’s branches back into their yard. Depending on applicable laws, you may be deemed littering or even trespassing onto their property by doing so. A better option is to talk with your neighbor to find a reasonable compromise when branches from their tree fall onto your property.
Ok, let’s get into it.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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What Does the Law Say?
As mentioned above, you could land in hot water if you decide to throw your neighbor’s branches that have fallen into your property back onto your neighbor’s yard.
There are at least two laws you may be violating.
First, you could be deemed littering. I know that most people consider littering to be throwing away trash relating to consumables in public spaces, but some states and localities include throwing away rubbish onto private property as littering.
For example, in Virginia, it is illegal for someone to dump or otherwise dispose of trash, garbage, refuse, litter, or other unsightly matter on private property without the written consent of the owner. Source.
Even outside the US, this may be deemed impermissible. For example, the UK has a practice called fly-tipping which is similar to littering, but includes disposing of garden waste and the like in areas not designated for such disposal. See this article for more information on this practice.
The second potential offense is trespassing. Again, the act of throwing back tree branches onto a neighbor’s yard does not seem to fit the traditional definition of trespassing, but some trespassing laws can include these acts within their scope.
For example, a Baltimore Sun article written by a lawyer analyzes this precise question and warns that under Maryland law, tossing dirt and brush into a neighbor’s property without their permission amounts to civil trespass. Source.
Of course, these are examples of laws in two jurisdictions and it goes without saying that your state and local laws may differ.
If you want a definitive answer to whether throwing back branches would amount to trespassing or littering in your area (or some other similar violation), you will need to research your applicable laws (or get a lawyer to assist).
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
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How to Keep Your Neighbor’s Tree Branches From Falling Into Your Yard
So you know there is some risk to throwing back your neighbor’s branches onto their yard. So what can you do when these branches wind up on your property?
Here are some tips you can use to minimize the hassle of cleaning up those annoying branches.
1. Understand Your Property Lines
Knowing your exact property lines is the best way to end a neighborly dispute. Property lines are the lines at which your property begins and your neighbor’s ends.
You might already have a fence that splits your yard from your neighbor’s, but they may not always be accurate. If you want to learn more about how to determine your property line accurately, check out this article.
Once you know your property line, you can assess whether your neighbor’s tree is growing across that line (and thus leaving branches on your property).
2. Talk to Your Neighbor
Before doing anything drastic, have a chat with your neighbor! It’s best to resolve conflicts in a friendly way, especially since both parties live right next to each other.
Tell your neighbor about the tree branches and the fact that they are falling onto your property (and identify any damage they might have done to your gorgeous yard, if applicable).
Even if you only have to remove the branches occasionally, you can ask your neighbor to trim back their tree. Or you could negotiate a solution where you pick up the branches and collect them, but leave them in a designated area on your neighbor’s property for disposal by them.
They may even have a pile that is used to collect yard waste, which you can use.
If your neighbor takes good care of their yard, chances are they won’t have any problem with trimming a few branches or agreeing to some other reasonable solution. Still, your neighbor might neglect the tree, continuing the issue.
3. Contact Your Local Homeowners Association
If you live in an area governed by a homeowner’s association, you can review the rules around trees. In some cases, these HOAs can have stricter rules than your state’s laws. If there’s any conflict between you and your neighbor, they might have rules that resolve the situation to your advantage.
4. Trim the Branches
If you’ve tried everything and your neighbor still won’t budge, you may have the right to trim and prune the part of the tree growing into your property to your liking. Now you need to be careful before doing this – state and local laws will have different rules around what’s permitted.
However, many do allow you to trim branches that hang over your property line.
You might even hire a professional. Some professionals can help you trim the tree branches in a certain way that’ll prevent them from growing again.
5. Take Legal Action
You may be able to take legal action against your neighbor if a big part of the tree fell into your yard, not just small branches.
Again, whether you have a winning claim will depend on the circumstances and laws applicable to your situation, so it’s best to consult a legal professional at this point.
So there you have it – a detailed look at whether you can throw your neighbor’s tree branches back into their yard and some tips on what to do if you are faced with this situation. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!