Reader Question: My neighbor has a few trees planted quite close to the side of his yard that borders ours and some branches are starting to hang over our yard. Can I reduce them?
You cannot cut the branches yourself because they are legally the property of your neighbor (defined in article 673 of the Civil Code).
However, you can cut the roots, brambles or twigs that extend over your land.
Since January 1, 2020, you are required to try to resolve situations such as cantilevered branches out of court before seeking legal remedies.
If you are on good terms with your neighbor, you can ask him to cut the branches that are spreading on your property (successful branches on your property).
The French verb prune, meaning ‘to carve’, could be useful here. You could ask them, for example, “can you prune the successful branches on my garden”.
If you are not on good terms with your neighbour, or your neighbor ig) asking him not to accept your request to prune the branches, the next step is to send a registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt (registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt) asking them to support the branches.
If they still don’t know, you can take the matter to court for free and without a lawyer.
You can fill Cerfa form no. 11764*05 and send it to your local court, along with a record establishing the facts of the case. This can be pictures of the trees/branches, the letter to your neighbour, etc.
You and your neighbor will then be summoned by the judge to the court, who, if he judges in your favour, can force your neighbor to cut the trees by imposing a fixed fine, i.e. a sum of money to pay each day that the branches still overhang your garden.
Note that if the trees are in a garden classified as a historic site, the judge will need special authorization to order their cutting.
The form mentioned above is in French and completing it and the subsequent legal process could be tricky for non-French speakers.
One means of support could be the use of a Point-Justice centre.
There are dedicated points throughout France where you can go to obtain legal advice and information about your rights from professionals.
You can see them around towns or villages, as they are marked with their distinctive green “information point” logo.
There are around 2,000 of these stations in France, with different legal professionals potentially present, such as lawyers, members of associations, mediators.
These information points are free and offer confidential advice.
To find your nearest Point-Justice information point, you can search online here.
Read our article explaining more about getting free legal advice in France here: Four potential ways to access free legal advice in France
Trees within legal distance must be from the neighboring garden
Trees cannot exceed certain heights depending on the distance between them and neighboring properties. These rules may vary by municipality (check with your town hall) but the standard rules are as follows:
If the tree is over two meters high, it must be at least two meters from the edge of the property
If the tree is less than two meters high, it must be at least 50 cm from the edge of the property
There are other exceptions to this that may come into play, such as the age or status of the tree.
There are also stricter rules for requiring a neighbor to completely cut down a tree, one situation in which this is possible being when the tree is deemed unsafe.
Article 673 of the Civil Code also note that if a neighbor’s tree that overhangs your property produces fruit, you become legal owner of those fruits if they fall to the ground on your land. You can’t pull them from the tree without your neighbor’s permission.
Finally, if a tree planted on public property and its branches overhang your property, you must speak to your local town hall.
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