By Jedidiah McKeehan

If you live in a house, you have neighbors, and you have any kind of vegetation growing on either of your properties, here is a situation in which you may find yourself: Your neighbor has a big tree that you have never really paid attention to, and then one day you look up, and its limbs are awfully close to your house. In fact, some of them may be touching the roof of your house! You try to talk to your neighbor about it, and your neighbor tells you that tree has been there 50 years and there is no way your house is in any danger.  In fact, they are offended by the idea of you suggesting that the tree that their grandfather planted should be touched in any way. What do you? Can you do anything?

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on this not that long ago in a case called, Lane v. W.J. Curry & Sons, that they decided in 2002 (in the legal world, 18 years ago is nothing!).

In that case, the Court said the following: “We hold that encroaching trees and plants are not nuisances merely because they cast shade, drop leaves, flowers, or fruit, or just because they happen to encroach upon adjoining property either above or below the ground. However, encroaching trees and plants may be regarded as a nuisance when they cause actual harm or pose an imminent danger of actual harm to adjoining property. If so, the owner of the tree or plant may be held responsible for harm caused by it, and may also be required to cut back the encroaching branches or roots, assuming the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance. We do not, however, alter existing Tennessee law that the adjoining landowner may, at his own expense, cut away the encroaching vegetation to the property line whether or not the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance or is otherwise causing harm or possible harm to the adjoining property.”

What is the Court saying? They are saying that if you can argue or show that the tree is either causing actual harm or poses an imminent danger of harm to your property, then you can do something about those branches that are over your property (I would suggest contacting your neighbor and giving them the option of addressing the branches prior to cutting them first).  However, if the branches are not doing anything except simply “existing” over your property, then you do not really have the right to cut the branches down that are hanging above your property.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including divorce, custody, criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.