In New York State, if a tree extends to your property, you have the right to cut that part down, as long as it doesn't invade your neighbor's property. His neighbor would have to cut back the overgrown branch only if it posed a hazard to his property, said Peter R. Massa, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. In better-reasoned decisions, courts in a minority of states follow the “Hawaii Rule,” which assigns full responsibility for the tree to the owner of the land on which the tree trunk rests.
The tree owner is responsible for the maintenance of the tree and also for any damage to a neighbor's property caused by the tree because branches that stick out are invading the owner's airspace. As a preventive measure, the Hawaii Rule allows a homeowner who has suffered “significant damage” to property due to a tree sticking out from a neighbor (damage other than by shading or dropping leaves, flowers, or fruits) to be reimbursed for the cost of pruning the neighbor's tree. Whether you're making or receiving a complaint about a tree that sticks out, it's essential to know who owns the tree in question. Once you know how to determine responsibility for a tree and its protruding branches, you can find better fair solutions with your neighbors during a dispute over a tree.