Fruits of labor – Hawaii News –


Statutes on overhanging trees are unclear, but experts say the fruit belongs to the tree’s owner, not his neighbors

By June Watanabe

QUESTION: A neighbor’s fruit tree canopy extends significantly into our yard and creates an abundance of work and green waste for us to handle. Often more of the canopy is overhanging our yard (and other neighbors’) than the trunk owner’s yard. For more than 20 years, the tree owner concurred that the neighbors owned the fruit over their yards. But the owner recently sold, and the new owner seems to feel differently. Any "right of way" or "common law" created by long-term previous activity? Who is entitled to the fruit that grows over onto our yard? Considering we have to do the cleanup, it would seem that we should be entitled to some, if not all, of the fruit.

ANSWER: While the prevailing law in Hawaii, and elsewhere, is that if a neighbor’s tree overhangs into your yard, you have the right to trim the tree up to the property line, there is nothing specifically addressing ownership of any overhanging fruit.

At least nothing that we could uncover.

However, according to a national authority on neighbor law, the fruit belongs to the owner of the tree, no matter how much the tree overhangs onto your property.

But in Hawaii, where neighbors tend to share any bounty of fruit, the question really hasn’t been an issue. It actually hasn’t been a matter of law in other states, as well.

While many disputes involving a neighbor’s tree have been mediated, "we’ve never had one where one has accused the other of stealing their fruit," said Tracy Wiltgen, executive director of the Mediation Center of the Pacific. The organization formerly was called the Neighborhood Justice Center.

She said she did not know of any law that dealt with that subject.