In the state of Texas, local laws, such as county and municipal ordinances, govern whether a person can cut tree limbs that hang over their property. Generally, when limbs of a tree hang over, or branches of a bush extend into a neighbor's property, it is lawful for the neighbor to cut the limbs or trim the branches to the extent that the plant parts protrude onto their property.
It is unlawful for the neighbor to cut tree limbs that do not extend onto their property. A person who is considering cutting tree limbs that are not on their own property should get written permission from the owner of the tree or land on which the tree is rooted.
Local Ordinances Regarding Tree Trimming
There is no single law in Texas that covers all issues regarding neighbors’ trees. A person should review their local laws regarding cutting tree limbs by checking the code of ordinances for their county or municipality.
For example, the Dallas Code of Ordinances provides at Section 48-9 that it is unlawful for a person to cut or destroy a tree in the city on property that does not belong to them without permission of the owner of the property.
This is a general rule that many cities in the state follow. A person may not enter another person’s property without the owner or occupant’s permission, especially to take actions like removing or cutting tree branches.
Trimming Problematic Trees in Dallas
Section 48-11 of the Dallas Code of Ordinances provides that a person who owns, occupies, or is in control of property is required to remove a dead, diseased or damaged tree from the parkway (area along a public street between the curb and the sidewalk) abutting the property that the person owns, occupies or controls.
The person who owns, occupies or is in control of the parkway must remove or trim the problematic tree at their own expense.
Austin Municipal Ordinances
The Austin Code of Ordinances answers the question, “Can I trim my neighbor’s tree?” at Section 25-11-180. It provides that a person may not cut or trim a tree or shrub located on or over private property without written permission of the owner or person in control of the property. This conflicts with the general rule that a person can cut tree limbs of a neighbor's tree that overhang the person's own property.
The Austin ordinance further provides that a person may not cut or trim a tree or shrub located on or over a public right of way or public land without written permission from the city’s parks and recreation department. This is also the general rule elsewhere.
Other Local Rules Regarding Trees
The Houston Code of Ordinances provides at Section 40-14 that owners and occupants of lots in front of and adjacent to which shade trees are growing in the streets must keep the shade trees trimmed. They must do so to an extent that the limbs and branches of the shade trees that overhang the sidewalks are at least 8 feet above the ground.
Houston also has a particular tree and shrub ordinance that provides standards for planting trees and shrubs and installing landscape buffers. The ordinance protects the city’s greenery by offering incentives to property owners to preserve and care for existing trees on private property.
The city of Austin provides an online guide to explain levels of tree ordinance protection. Trees 19 inches or more in diameter that are located on residential property are regulated. A tree less than 19 inches in diameter on residential property is not regulated. The answer to a question such as, “When to trim oak trees in Austin?” can be dependent on the size of the trees.
Texas State Laws Regarding Trees
Although there are numerous Texas tree laws, not all of them concern how to handle a neighbor's tree or trees hanging over property. One exception is Texas Local Government Code Section 240.909, which concerns the regulation of tree cutting in certain counties.
The law applies only to a county with a population of less than 50,000 that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which there is at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.
The commissioners court of a county subject to this section are allowed to prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county. The regulations of the commissioners court could affect how a person would address a neighbor's trees that overhang their property.
Asking a Neighbor to Trim Trees
Many local ordinances require that a person make a request in writing if they want the neighbor to trim or cut trees or bushes. A text or email counts as a writing. It is a good idea to make requests in writing even if an ordinance does not make it a requirement.
Having requests in writing and dating the requests allows the person who made the requests to have a record of documents. A person should avoid making statements that threaten the neighbor or the greenery.
If they want to offer the neighbor money to trim or cut down the plants, they can consider consulting a contract attorney with experience in dealing with property disputes between neighbors.
Trimming Trees Without Making a Request
If a neighbor cuts a tree or bushes on another person's property without making a written request, even if the limbs or bushes hung over the neighbor's property line, the person may have grounds to file a lawsuit for damages.
The person will have to prove their damages. For example, if the tree died because of the neighbor's action, the person might sue for the value of the tree. In some cases, the neighbor will have cut limbs or bushes that hung over their own property without written permission of the owner of the plant.
The person should then cite the ordinances and citations that the neighbor may have received for violations as a reason that they should not have cut the limbs.
What Are Boundary Trees?
A tree with a trunk located on the land of two or more people is called a boundary tree. Usually, it belongs to all of the property owners. All of the owners are responsible for caring for such a tree. One co-owner should not remove or trim the tree without the permission of the other owners.
Damage Caused by Trees
A property owner or occupant has a duty not to create a dangerous condition that would result in a financial or medical injury to their neighbor. The duty includes the requirement to exercise the standard of care of a reasonable person to maintain trees and bushes on their property.
The property owner or occupant may demonstrate negligence if limbs or the trunk of a tree, or parts of bushes, harm a neighbor or cause damage to the neighbor’s property. The limbs of the tree do not have to fall to cause damage. They can scrape against a structure or vehicle and cause damage in that way.
A neighbor who has suffered harm can sue the responsible property owner and/or occupant in civil court. If there is a severe weather event, such as a hurricane, and the tree on one property falls onto the adjacent property, the weather event may be deemed an “act of God.” The court may then not hold the property owner liable for damage caused by the tree.
- Texas Local Government Code: Title 7, Chapter 240 Miscellaneous Regulatory Authority of Counties
- City of Houston, Texas, Planning and Development: Tree and Shrub Ordinance
- City of Houston, Texas: Code of Ordinances Section 40-14 Clearance of Tree Limbs Over Sidewalks
- City of Dallas, Texas: Code of ordinances Section 48-9 Injuring Trees, Shrubs or Plants on Another's Property
- City of Austin, Texas: Code of ordinances Section 25-11-180 Cutting Trees
- Austin, Texas: Levels of Tree Ordinance Protection
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.