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Question: Our neighbor has a huge tree with branches that hang over our property. We’d like them cut back to let more light into our yard, where we want to plant a garden.. Who does it? Him? Us? Do we need our neighbor’s permission?

— Let the sun shine in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Dear Let,

Rule No. 1: Be a good neighbor. Although you are within your rights to trim the branches overhanging your property, you don’t want to tackle the project without first consulting with your neighbor. It’s just a good long-term policy that when a neighbor undertakes a project that affects the guy next door, that they talk about it and reach an agreement. You don’t want to spend the next 20 years on bad terms with your neighbor when it could’ve been easily avoided with open communication.

For one thing, if your block of houses is laid out like most in New York, there’s very little chance that you will be able to get a mechanical cherry picker crane in your backyard. That means the tree trimmers will have to climb the tree in order to trim and that means they will probably need access to your neighbor’s backyard.

For another, you might find that your neighbor has his own issues with branches and he may be willing to share some of the costs if the work is done on his side of the property line as well. (Likewise, if he’s reluctant to give you access, you can improve your negotiating position by offering to pay for any work he may want done.)

As I said, you are well within your rights to trim branches overhanging your property. But it’s a big job and not for doing it yourself. Hire a reputable trimming service — one that’s licensed and insured and knows how to properly trim a tree for balance and aesthetics. If there is any damage to your neighbor’s property or to the tree itself if it should die as a result of the work, you could be liable for removing the entire tree, replacing it and other legal damages.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.