I frequently receive calls concerning a property owner’s right to remove encroaching branches, roots and trees.  The following is a summary of California law concerning encroaching branches, roots and trees.

  1. Ownership.  Under California law, a tree owner is determined by the location of its trunk regardless of whether the branches or roots extend to adjacent properties.
  1. Overhanging branches.  An adjacent landowner has an absolute right to remove overhanging branches.  However, the adjacent landowner can only cut back those branches to the boundary line.
  1. Encroaching roots.  An adjacent landowner does not have an absolute right to remove roots unless they are causing damage.  Unless the adjacent property owner carefully documents the damage caused by those roots, he may be liable to the tree owner for damages.  The adjacent landowner must consider less invasive options prior to electing to remove the roots.
  1. Right to cut down trees.  An adjacent landowner cannot enter into the tree owner’s land and cut trees down.  If he does, then the adjacent landowner is liable to the tree owner for all resulting damage.  If the act was intentional, then the adjacent landowner may be liable to the tree owner for treble damages (3x actual damages).  The adjacent landowner must obtain court approval before cutting any tree down.


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