Overhanging branches and trees on neighbor's property

We have a large paperbark maple in our backyard growing along the fence. At least 1/3 of the tree overhangs the neighbor’s yard. The tree is perfectly healthy to my eyes, there aren’t any branches that look leafless or otherwise diseased.

We had some serious thunderstorms pass through the area (Houston) last night, and a 4 foot limb or so fell on their driveway. It didn’t damage anything, but she called me over today, showed me the branch (I also cleaned it up for her), and complained about the 1/3 of the tree hanging over her property. She asked me to trim it back to my fence line as it posed a danger to her kids and her property. She also complained that come autumn she got leaves all over her backyard.

I know that I would be liable if the tree was diseased. But it seems ridiculous to cut down 1/3 of a tree, perhaps seriously jeapordizing its health, just because in extreme thunderstorms it may fall onto her property and it sheds maple leaves in the autumn. Hell, in extreme thunderstorms, the brances on my side of the fence are nearly as likely to be blown over to her property, and there are going to be leaves over there unless I chop the entire tree down.

Let’s assume the tree is healthy. Am I liable for damages from falling branches from a lightning strike or an extreme thunderstorm? Am I legally obligated to cut the branches of the tree because it encroaches on their property? If I refuse, can she cut the branches down herself? What if it kills my tree?

I’m selling my house and so I’ll probably just let this ride. I may phone a tree surgeon just to get confirmation that the tree is healthy, although he was around last year to cut down a seriously diseased oak in my front yard and he checked out the rest of the trees to be OK at that point. Speaking of which, there are large oaks overhanging my garage from other neighbors’ property that I’ve never thought twice about. It would be interesting to hear the answer.

There’s a book at every library published by Nolo Press called Neighbor Law. Other similar books will be right beside it on the shelf.
You will be glad you looked it up, as there are a lot of subtleties to trees, fences, and neighbors.

I am looking for the cite, but IIRC from previous homes I have owned, if part of your tree overhangs their property, they are perfectly within their rights to ask you to trim it back, or to cut it themselves. If damage occurs from branches that overhang, you could also be liable.

Back with the cite shortly, if I can find it (I’m having some search trouble).

IAAL but this is in no way to be construed as legal advice – just general information. It doesn’t sound like you’ve been negligent in your care of the tree, but to cover your butt, you might want to have your tree guy back to have another look, particularly since it’s lost a branch now. If it does fall and injure her person or property, she will have satisfied the “notice” element, i.e., you were warned it might happen but took no reasonable steps to prevent it. All you need to take is reasonable care.

Generally the neighbor has the right to cut branches that hang over to her side, but she may NOT kill the tree.