Does French law allow me to remove a tree growing next to my garden?

Neighbouring trees can be inconvenient or even dangerous to another property

Reader question: There is an as yet fairly young Sumac tree which is growing right up against the wall of part of our house. Can we cut it down to eliminate the risk of probable damage as it matures? 

The reader continues: “It is on a very small plot shown on the cadastral plan which separates our property from the property next to us.

“We live in a small hameau which, like many such-like settlements in the area, has become dis-populated. Ownership of this small plot is uncertain and may well be ‘extinct’.”

Neighbouring trees can be inconvenient or even dangerous to your property. 

There are strict regulations on what kind of trees can be planted and where. In particular, if your neighbour plants a tree more than two metres high, it must be planted at least two metres away from your property. 

If it is smaller, then it must be planted at least 0.5 metres from your property. 

There may also be local rules in place depending on your commune. To find out you should contact your local mairie. 

What can you do if your neighbour does not respect these rules? 

Unfortunately, cutting down a tree that is not on your property is illegal without permission. 

If you are unhappy with a tree planted near your property, then you should speak to your neighbour. If that does not work, you should send them a letter (you can find an example of the type of letter here). The best solution is always to come to an agreement with your neighbour. 

Read more: French law: Can I cut an overhanging branch from neighbour’s tree?

If that does not work, you must then take an ‘amiable approach’ and try to sort out the problem with the help of a judicial conciliator (for free), a mediator (free or paid) or a lawyer (paid). 

If the problem is still unresolved you can then take the case to a local tribunal. 

What if you do not know who your neighbour is? 

You mention that it is unclear to whom the tree and the plot of land belongs. 

Your first plan of action is to try and find this out, either with the help of the local mairie or other local authorities. 

Sometimes plots of land are bequeathed however the inheritor is not made aware of this making it difficult to determine the owner. 

It is still against the law to cut down the tree even in these circumstances. If you do, you leave yourself open to a potential prosecution. 

Read more: Man fined €6,000 for cutting down neighbour’s tree in northern France

We suggest that you contact the mairie, explain the situation, and see what they recommend. 

The mairie can declare the land abandoned if the owner cannot be found. In these circumstances and if the tree does not respect the previously stated rules, then the mairie will take care of it.

Where a tree is dangerous or dead, then the mairie may act without any delay.