Reader question: What does the law say about trees or shrubs growing into a neighbour’s property?
French law, specifically the Code Civil, lays down rules relating to trees and other vegetation encroaching on a neighbour’s property.
In the case of trees or shrubs that have branches growing into your property, the neighbour has a legal obligation to cut them but you do not have the right to do it yourself.
However, article 673 states that if it is not full branches but just roots, brambles or twigs, then you can do it yourself. Unfortunately, if the neighbour will not cut branches voluntarily, you would need to apply to a local court – tribunal judiciaire or de proximité – for a legal order to cut the branches off (there is a directory of courts online here.
The court office may be able to advise on the process. An avocat (lawyer) can assist, for a fee, if necessary.
The Code Civil also lays down rules on how close trees may be to a neighbour’s property, though there is no legal avenue if the trees have been in place for 30 years or more due to the loi trentenaire rules on rights acquired over time. In the first instance, you should ask your mairie about any local rules on how close trees may be.
If there are none, then the rules depend on the height of the tree or bush. If it is 2m or less, then it should be no less than 50cm from the boundary. If it is more than 2m, it should be at least 2m away.
If this is not respected, you may demand that the trees or bushes be removed or cut down in size, and in the first instance should do so with a registered letter with receipt slip (lettre recommandée avec avis de reception).
If he or she refuses, then you should try mediation, for example via the free conciliateur de justice service.
If that fails, then an application to a court is necessary.
Note that in the case of tall trees that are 0.5m to 2m from the boundary, the 30-year rule against legal action only applies where the tree has been more than two metres high for 30 years or more.
In the case of disagreement over exactly where the boundary is, you can agree between you to have it settled by a surveyor (géomètreexpert) in a process called bornage, or if you cannot agree this may also be imposed by a court.