It’s legal to trim your neighbour’s tree (even if he doesn’t want you to), Germany’s highest court rules

It’s legal to trim your neighbour's tree (even if he doesn't want you to), Germany’s highest court rules
A spruce tree. credit: dpa-tmn | Andrea Warnecke
The Federal High Court (BGH) is used to dealing with some of the most high-profile crimes in the country. But on Friday it announced its ruling on a rather different deliberation - whether it is permissible to trim branches hanging over into one's garden.

In recent weeks the BGH has confirmed rulings against far-right terrorists, police killers and murderous businessmen. 

So the judges were no doubt happy for a bit of light relief when they were asked to deliberate a slightly less gruesome issue – whether the law allows one to cut back the branches of a neighbours tree that have grown over the fence.

This seemingly inconsequential matter of law made it all the way up to the highest court after a Berlin judge ruled in favour of the tree’s owner.

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A Berlin man whose spruce tree had spread its branches into the neighbours garden filed a complaint when he saw that his neighbour had cut back the branches in his side of the fence.

The tree owner said that the action could have destabilized his tree and made it more vulnerable to being blown over by a storm. He even insisted that the pruning of its branches could lead the tree to die.

But on Friday the BGH ruled in favour of the tree pruner, saying he had a right to self-help which was provided for in the German Civil Code.

The judges emphasized that the right to self-help could be restricted by nature conservation regulations, such as tree protection statutes, but that these did not apply in this case.

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Member comments

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  1. Yet another example of bad neighbourliness leading to legal action, which in the end will probably cause the tree to suffer as a result of unneccessary or unstructured work. Consequently, so will many more trees suffer, as this will set a bad legal precedent if not moderated correctly by law. As an arborist, I see examples like this all the time, everyone claims to care about their trees but they care about their property and legal rights (i.e. being in the right), far far more. Whether the tree suffers or is destabilised, or not, will depend upon the species, age and location of the tree. A far better solution is to agree between neighbours what should be done and who will pay (usually split between both). Sadly far too many prefer to call the police on their neighbour and wait to be completely vindicated, yet the consequences are usually far worse for nature. The result, a lot of antiseptic, nature-free gardens with rigid legal and natural borders that do no good for nature at all. The price of being in the right.

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