Privacy Hedge Overgrowth Into Neighbors Yard

nevdrachey(z6 NY)December 24, 2005

I've recently bought a house with a large privacy hedge on my property behind a fence lining the back yard on one side. It abuts the fence for the length of the yard - 60 feet approx. I assumed, never having owned a home, that it would be my responsibility to cut the side of the hedge that grows towards the neighbors' yard. Encountering the neighbor once, I asked how they were able to cut the hedges on that side (since I assumed it would be intrusive to enter the neighbors' yard) and he stated with a scaffold. In my naievete I somehow imagined he meant a scaffold over the hedges from which I would hang - although I couldn't imagine how this would work. This I now know illustrates my lack of perspective and experience on the matter. After a month of the summer had passed and I let myself not think of this - somewhat convincing myself that it perhaps didn't really grow on that side (as the hedges were not growing on certain sides in my yard) the neighbor stops at the fence to ask when I was going to cut as he was tired of the hedges hitting him in the face as he mowed his lawn. So for the first time I stepped to a little opening in the back of the yard to look and saw that there was indeed a good deal of growth. I immediately felt badly for having him go through that and stated I would cut the hedges very soon and did so the next week.

However, I do not know what is the convention concerning this. I must say it feels strange to have to gain entry to his backyard - with a ladder over a fence when he's not home and his gate is chained - and cut the hedges from his property. Behind my house there are branches from the trees in that neighbors' yard that overhang mine and they have thick vines on them that grow into my yard. I am addressing that situation and trimming there and never thought to ask that neighbor to enter my yard to trim this growth.

The neighbor on the other side of the hedges even mentioned, in relating a story, that he'd recently trimmed the tree overhang from the neighbor on the opposite side of him. So in this instance he doesn't see it as that neighbor's duty to police the growth of their tree.

I originally thought it my responsibility because the hedges are large (8'-10' in height and 60' long) and thus the job is also large and I didn't see wny he should have this large job when they are my hedges, but I do wonder if I am being taken advantage of. I have a sneeking suspsion the previous owners did not agree to this arrangement though I have no proof.

Since I've started trimming the hedges they have been extremely nice and I appreciate this and welcome it. But, I do wonder if this would conventionally be my responsibility or if I am, as well, being extremely nice in taking this on. I've considered that even if it is the concensus that this would not usually be my job, I still might do it as they are a bit older and I enjoy the good will. And I believe they clearly feel this should not be their responsibility. However, I would like opinions on what the usual scenario would be in this situation. I've searched the web, and there doesn't seem to be much discussion on this topic in the US. Found a bit in the UK, but it may very well be quite different there. They spoke much about the legality issues and it clearly falls on the owner of the hedges, if I've read correctly. This is what largely shaped my original feeling of responsibility. But, just tonight a friend expressed surprised that I was cutting the hedges from the neighbor's property and that rekindled my curiosity as to the common wisdom.

Thanks for any insight you can provide.

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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

I'm not an expert on this, but I have an idea how it works with trees, and I'm assuming it is the same for shrubs. If you don't get a satisfactory answer you may post in the shrubs forum, they might have more ideas.

Legally, you are only responsible for the sides on your property. Your neighbors are responsible for their side. You might want to ask the previous owners who took trimmed them.

You did not plant these, but whoever did planted them too close to the property line. Ideally, when a hedge is planted, enough room should be left at the property line so that when you need to trim the other side, you can stay on your own property to do the trimming. In reality most people don't do this, either because they want the maximum amount of space on their side, or because they underestimated how large the shrubs will eventually become. Sometimes neighbors agree to plant them ON the property line and to each maintain their side. But then they sell their property and new neighbors have to work it out.

HOWEVER, while legally it might be your neighbor's responsibility . . . . who can blame them if they would be very annoyed to take on the maintenance of shrubs that are NOT theirs, when they are getting older, and the shrubs may block their view. It might be worth the good will to continue doing this, even though, technically, it is not your responsibility. If your neighbors did it reluctantly, they could really butcher the shrubs at the wrong time of year which would harm the shrubs and cause an unpleasant view and "holes" in your hedge. Legally, they can cut anything on their property line. Be careful what you ask for . . . .

You should talk to your neighbor about this and be prepared for them to say they don't want the work. If you do the trimming, it is considered proper to let them know in advance, so they can leave a gate open for you and expect you. Sneaking over a fence with a ladder is not recommended.

Consider how nice it is to have pleasant neighbors. Think how unpleasant it is to have friction with the people who live right next door. I second your notion that you continue to do it anyways, out of good will, since they are your shrubs.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2005 at 8:03AM
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shimla(5 Upstate, NY)

Oh, neighbors, neighbors, neighbors!

Great advice, gottagarden!

Continue to maintain that hedge!!!!!!! Leave the worry about what is legally right and just continue to do the right thing. Youre effort is working and you now can maintain a pleasant relationship with your neighbors ***which is golden***.

IÂd venture to say that the hedgerow has been a source of contention for your neighbor for quite sometime. If you didnÂt maintain it, then who would be the one being taken advantage of? While not your fault it was planted incorrectly, should they have to suffer the consequences? If they are getting on in years itÂs probably an undertaking for them to have to trim it each year. I canÂt imagine that itÂs an enjoyable task either and wouldnÂt want to be subjected to that.

If itÂs feasible in time, consider replacing or properly replanting the hedgerow so you completely alleviate the problem. Until then, as gottagarden posted, do obtain permission to go over and trim them up. It will just make it all the more comfortable for you and wonÂt be considered trespassing.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Shimla - who has sat on the Âother side of the property line

    Bookmark   December 24, 2005 at 9:52AM
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nevdrachey(z6 NY)

Thanks Gottagarden and Shimla for your advice. Having gotten it out by writing about it, I'd realized I wished to do as you suggested and continue to cut the hedges for all of the reasons you cited.

This holiday season we exchanged gifts, which they initiated, although we had already planned to give ours, and it was such a nice experience that it confirmed for me that it was the right thing to do. We only have to trim the hedges 3 or 4 times a season and its not that much of a burden for us. Its just easier to swallow if I know its my decision, and not something I'm doing out of ignorance.

Just to paint a clearer picture, I used a ladder to go over the fence only because they invited us to enter their yard any time we wished to trim the hedges, even if they weren't home. Which, of course, illustrates how anxious they were to have this done. I left a telephone message prior to entering their yard to let them know we would do this.

Thanks for taking the time to respond. You confirmed my better instincts and I appreciate your kindness.

Happy holidays and the best for the new year.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2005 at 12:24PM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

I have just the reverse situation. My neighbor has planted shrubs right down the property line and they are at least 15 maybe even closer to 20 ft. tall which in one sence is nice because they blook out all the traffic from the boulevard at the end of our street. They were tall and overgrown when we moved here and he has only had them trimmed once in the 7 yrs. that we have been in the house. They were so overgrown a couple of yrs ago that the limbs were bending over and I had a hard time getting into my car in the driveway. I have taken it upon myself to hack them back every spring and removing all the dead wood from the previous season. My side has filled in nicely where his side is sparse and lanky with all the growth on top and flopping over. This spring I am going to have my husband rent a chain saw and top about 4 or 5 fit off of them all the way down the driveway which is about 6 car lengths long to get them to a height that I can manage since he has no interest in keeping them trimmed.


    Bookmark   December 28, 2005 at 3:06PM
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