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Your neighbour's trees

What happens if your neighbour has trees that are hanging over into your garden? Can you just cut the branches down and get rid of them?

The law states in France that you cannot just cut them off and get rid of them.

BUT article 673 of the Code civil does state that you can make your neighbour cut them if they are hanging over your side and they are causing a problem for you. Whatever happens, it would be better to avoid using legal force, by just going and asking them first to cut them down. But often, especially if you've moved into a house that has been empty for a while, then that might not be accepted easily by the neighbour. The cost of getting someone in to cut the branches is going to be relatively high in France and the neighbour might not be willing to pay that. It could be anything like 300-500 euros depending on the work involved and who gets rid of the branches (you or the gardeners). You are allowed, however, to cut off twigs and dig up roots that are growing over your side of the fence. If the tree is down the middle of the property line, then you are both responsible for maintaining it.

If the neighbour doesn't cut the branches, then the next thing to do is send a registered letter to the person that occupies the house (it's the responsibility of the occupier and not the owner of the house). The lettre recommandée (avec accusé de réception) should be with a return docket of proof that it has been received. If there is still no response, then you will have to put in a claim at the tribunal d'instance (the civil or the county court). It can be done on line at The neighbour will then receive a mise en cause, or third party claim and will be told to cut the branches by the courts. This is at no cost and is supposed to be a reminder that there is the possibility of being taken to court. If that doesn't work, then a mise en demeure will be sent (formal notice). This means that the complaint is recorded in the court registry. The owner will have 8 days to respond only, otherwise the complaint will be formally lodged and it will go before the judge of the county court.

If you do decide to cut the branches down yourself, then you open yourself up to the possibility of being prosecuted for breaking the law also. The local marie may also contact you and tell you to maintain the trees if they are overhanging onto the road, for example.

There is even distance between the fence and the property of a neighbour which should be respected for the planting of trees. This was not always the case in the past, and if the tree has been there for more than 30 years, then nothing can be done. But, when planting trees today, they should be a minimum of 0.5 metres from the fence or the property of the neighbour (if they are no higher than 2M). If they are over 2 metres, then they must be at least 2m from the fencing or the property.

It's always best firstly to know what the law states before you start planting trees and what the law does and does not allow you to do. remember in France, nemo censetur ignorare lege, nul n'est censé ignoré la loi...or in plain old English, you can't go before the judge and say "I didn't know what the law stated", it cannot be used as a line of defence, since 'nobody is supposed not to know the law'.

A good neighbour is better than a grumpy one, anyway:)

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