There are national regulations that govern the distance from a neighbouring property that trees and certain shrubs can be planted.
There are also local planning regulations that apply in some areas, for which you need to refer to your local mairie.
In the Paris region there is no requirement to respect minimal distances in the planting of trees and shrubs.
The basic rule that applies elsewhere depends on the intended height of the tree or shrub.
If the tree or shrub is intended to grow higher than 2 metres there must be a minimum distance of 2 metres from the neighbouring boundary. If it is intended to grow below 2 metres in height then the minimum distance is 50 centimetres from the boundary.
If you propose to plant a tree capable of growing beyond 2 metres, it can still be planted within 50 centimetres of the boundary, provided it is pruned to remain below this height.
The distance is calculated by measuring at ground level from the middle of the trunk of the tree to the perimeter of the boundary separating the two properties.
Where a property borders a public highway then the minimum distance is 2 metres from the highway, but may be less depending on local regulations and traffic circumstances.
Even though a tree or shrub may not be causing any prejudice, if it exceeds the minimum distances then a neighbour has the right to ask that it be pruned, or even removed in some cases.
There is a 30 year limit on this rule (la prescription trentenaire), which allows the offending owner to argue that if the tree was planted at least 30 years ago, then breach of the rule can be justified.
Despite the law, two neighbours can agree to agree to recognise planting of a tree or shrub beyond the limits, in which case a planting easement (servitude de plantation) is created.
In order for this easement to be binding on subsequent owners it needs to be signed in front of a notaire and placed on the land registry.
In the same way that a right of light can be created through prescription or the creation of new building plots (see above) the same rule applies to trees and shrubs.
If the roots of a tree or shrub impedes onto a neighbouring property the occupier has the right to prune them to the limit of their boundary without the consent of their neighbour.
A neighbour does not have the right to cut the branches; they remain the property of your neighbour, and you must request that they are pruned by your neighbour
In the absence of agreement on general maintenance, in the last resort you would need to go to court to force your neighbour to undertake the maintenance work.
If a nuisance is being caused, then the court is likely to be sympathetic to the complaint. An owner is obliged to maintain trees and shrubs that border a neighbouring property, so as not to cause a nuisance.
It is not permissable to pick fruit from overhanging branches from a neighbouring garden, although it is possible to collect them from the ground if they fall onto your land.
The law recognises three rights for those neighbours with a common hedgerow.
First, the right to benefit from fruit and other produce from the hedge. Each neighbour has the right to half the produce, irrespective of whether or not it might fall on one side of the hedge! If the tree should die or be cut then each neighbour has the right to half of it.
Second, each neighbour has the right to require that shared trees are cut, although one of the neighbours cannot proceed unilaterally. Joint agreement seems implicit rather than explicitly stated in law.
Thirdly, in relation to the hedge itself, each neighbour can destroy up to the limit of the hedge on his or her own property. However, if they do this, they can be required to construct a wall or fence in lieu of the missing part of the hedge.
If the tree of one owner falls into the grounds of an adjoining property then the household insurance of the tree owner will normally cover any damage that may be caused.
However, if the tree was clearly in a diseased state there may be a condition that limits the responsibility of the insurance company.
In these cases they may argue that the owner should have had the tree removed professionally.
The courts have considered many disputes between property owners concerning nuisance caused by shading from trees, resulting in a loss of sunlight.
As a general principle, the courts have taken the view that the owner has no automatic right to an uninterrupted view or to benefit from sunlight through their windows.
Nevertheless, where it can be demonstrated that an owner is deliberately trying to cause difficulties for their neighbour, or where a property has been deprived of sunlight as to be abnormal, then they have found in favour of the complainant.
Where leaves from a tree belonging to one neighbour block the gutters of another then, as a general rule, the courts will not intervene as this is considered to be a natural phenomenon, for which no-one can be responsible.
However, if the tree has been planted too close to the property or if no maintenance has been carried out then the court can be persuaded to take a different view.
There is no law that obliges a property owner to maintain their garden, although there are regulations that require an owner to maintain trees and shrubs that border a neighbouring property.
Accordingly, if you find the view disagreeable, there is very little you can do, unless they transgress into your own property.
In exceptional circumstances the local mayor does have powers to intervene where the problem is one of public health, serious pollution or of grave danger to others. In these cases, a mayor is able to order that the area be cleaned up, failing which the council can act directly, and counter charge the owner. Where the property appears to be abandoned, the mayor can also order an emergency clearing up operation be carried out.
Needless to say, many mayors are reluctant to use these powers, not only because of way they affect private property rights, but also because of the cost to the local council budget.
In many rural (and even urban) areas there are also local regulations under the code forestier concerning the maintenance of property borders in order to limit the risk of fire in forests and woodlands.
Indeed, in these areas there is a legal obligation on owners whose property adjoins a forest or woodland to maintain the border of their property to a minimum depth of 50 metres.
There are some communes that have local regulations concerning the times of day when it is not permissible to use a lawn mower or other garden machinery, so that neighbours are not disturbed.
You would need to consult with your local mairie or préfecture to establish whether such regulations apply in your locality.
Clearly, in the first instance you should try and resolve matters in an amicable manner.
Before you consider legal action, you should speak to your local mayor, as they may be able to speak to your neighbour and resolve the problem.
If not, then you should consider using a conciliation service in your area, about which your mairie should have details.
If a neighbour is unwilling to cooperate then the matter can be heard in a court of law (Tribunal d’instance) without the need to engage an avocat.
If you wish to take this route, be aware that the court will want to see evidence that everything short of legal action has been taken before being brought to their attention.
Try using the services of your local legal advice centre, whose services are often free of charge, particularly to those on a low income. The legal advice centre is called Conseil Départemental de l'Accès au Droit (CDAD).
Next: Index - Property Rights in France