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Neighbor law: Just one snip – and the branch is gone

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Can I simply lop off annoying branches, hedges, and roots that grow beyond my neighbor’s property and encroach on my land? Do I have to accept the situation when my neighbor lets their garden run wild? And: Is it worth entering into a neighborhood dispute in such situations?

These questions are regulated in black and white in Art. 687 of the Swiss Civil Code (CC), which states that overhanging branches and roots encroaching beyond the boundary may be severed if they are damaging property and have not been removed within a reasonable time following a complaint in relation thereto. This is known as the right of severance

Talk first, then saw

As with all neighborhood disputes, you should first try talking to your neighbor: Problems can often be solved quickly and permanently when both sides talk to each other. However, if no agreement or sensible solution is in sight and if the branches or bushes are really annoying, you can exercise your right of severance.

What conditions apply to severance? 

  • Your property is damaged by the neighboring plants.
  • Damage in this case means that you are considerably restricted in the use or cultivation of your property. For example, if the leaves, flowers, or needles falling from the projecting plants take a lot of time to clear up, or if the shade cast by a tree is excessive. 
  • Whether the damage is “considerable” is assessed according to an objective standard rather than subjective perception. 
  • By contrast, projecting plants that do not cause any damage must be tolerated.

Set a written deadline

If you actually suffer damage as a result of the projecting plant parts, you must set your neighbor a deadline by which the roots or branches should be removed. For the purpose of obtaining proof, it is recommended that such a deadline should be written in a letter sent by registered mail. In your letter you should make the following clear: what specific plant parts are annoying you; you are demanding for these to be removed; and that these will be severed after this deadline if your neighbor has failed to cut them, or have them cut, him- or herself. 

Resort to the shears, saw, etc.

Make sure that the deadline gives your neighbor sufficient time to be able to initiate the necessary measures. You should also be aware that trees and bushes cannot be trimmed simply at any time of the year. 

If the neighbor fails to react by this deadline, you can exercise your right of severance. It is important that the plants should be severed professionally and cut back only as far as the property boundary. If you wish, you can even keep the severed branches. 

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Costs for cutting the branches

You will have to pay for the branches to be severed, i.e. your gardener's invoice. Alternatively, if you expect these costs to be very high and if the plant is located too close to the shared boundary, you can file a complaint with the competent judge to have the branches removed. 

The right of severance is clearly regulated

In contrast with other neighbor-related legal provisions concerning clearance distances and heights of hedges, bushes, and trees, the right of severance applies consistently across the whole of Switzerland and without any limitations. This means that your neighbor cannot argue that their plants have grown over the other property for years. You can therefore exercise your right of severance at any time if there really is no other solution. 

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