It can be a nuisance when the limbs of your neighbor's tree extend onto your property. Before you whip out that chain saw, however, keep in mind that the state in which you live likely has laws that define what you can and can’t do to that tree. The laws in the state of Texas are clear as to what your legal remedies are in such circumstances.
Easement Protection Might Limit Your Actions
The first legal issue to consider is called an easement. An easement is the right of one person to use another person’s property for a certain reason. Under Texas law, the air above a person’s property – the air that might be invaded by tree limbs – can qualify for easement protection. An easement is granted when there’s an express agreement between two parties, but such an agreement isn't necessarily required.
Your Neighbor May Have an Automatic Easement
There are some cases in which an easement is granted to a person automatically. In the case of extending tree limbs, if your neighbors’ tree limbs have been hanging over your property for at least 10 years, or if your neighbor once owned that land, the law will recognize your neighbor’s automatic easement. In that case, you probably don't have the lawful right to cut the branches off your neighbor’s tree even if those branches are hanging over your property without your express permission.
Texas Law May Allow You to Trim and Cut Branches Even with an Easement
Under Texas law, even if your neighbor has the right to allow his tree limbs to hang over your property, you have the right to trim the leaves, and even cut the branches, if they pose a danger to your property or block your sunlight. Be careful here, though. If the trunk of the tree is on your neighbor’s property, you can’t do anything that could harm the health of the tree. You can’t prune a tree so much or so often that it becomes damaged (and you certainly can't cut it down no matter how much you might like to).
Understanding When Your Neighbor Is (and Isn't) Liable for Damage
If your neighbor’s tree falls, or even just a branch of that tree falls, and does damage to your home or property, your neighbor would only be liable for that damage if he was negligent. This means your neighbor knew the tree was decaying or in overall bad shape before it fell and did nothing about it. If the tree falls due to circumstances beyond your neighbor’s control, such as a hurricane or other natural disaster, he will not have to pay you anything in damages.
Before taking matters into your own hands to trim or cut tree limbs that extend onto your property, you should determine whether they have a written or implied easement over your property. There are some limited exceptions giving you permission to trim tree branches that pose a danger or block your sunlight.