In Malaysia, can you cut your neighbour's tree if it grows into your compound… and steal its fruit?
So it's been a while since your neighbour's mango tree has been growing over your fence. You've been putting up with it all this time but it's starting to get irritating because the branches are obstructing your view AND they are a hazard. You're sitting there wondering if you might get into trouble if you cut those branches.
Also, many of the mangoes seem to be growing over your fence and they're falling into your compound. You feel that you should give them back to your neighbour. Can you actually take the fruit for yourself though? This may sound like something petty and like something that can't have a law of its own but there is actually a law for this.
When branches of your neighbour's tree are growing into your compound, these are known as overhanging branches, so it's actually a thing. Most countries do have laws against overhanging branches. In Australia, each state has different laws for it. In Malaysia, it is the law of private nuisance that is applied… because well, having something growing into your compound is a nuisance. A private nuisance is defined as unlawful interference with the use and enjoyment of land. There are three elements to private nuisance, all of which must be satisfied if you are to hold your neighbour accountable.
- The plaintiff (you) owns the land or has the right to possess it; - The defendant (your neighbour) actually acted in a way that interferes with the plaintiff's enjoyment and use of his or her property; and - The defendant's interference was substantial and unreasonable.
So by letting their tree grow into your compound, they might be liable for private nuisance if the overhanging branches majorly affect how you use your home. If it poses a safety risk, they will most likely be liable. But what if you don't like the tree growing into your compound because it just looks ugly or it's ruining the view from your home? The law also says that if it hangs over your compound, it's yours. Even if you can't sue your neighbour for private nuisance, you might still be able to do something about those branches… or all the fruit that's been falling into your veranda.
You can cut parts of a tree that grow into your compound (or take any fruits that grow on these branches) but you can't take anything that grows over your neighbour's compound. Once something is no longer within your compound, you no longer have the right to do anything about it, because it's no longer causing any obstruction on your property.
Anything that is within your neighbour's compound is theirs and if you remove anything from there, YOU can be sued for trespassing their property. If you want to do something about the obstruction, it must be "without entering the other's land". Climbing over the fence to steal fruit that grows on your neighbour's compound would amount to theft because it's your neighbour's property. And you certainly don't want to be caught for theft because the penalty for that is pretty heavy.
Almost all housing areas have trees growing near the pavements or outside the homes. And a common misconception might be, that since they're growing in no particular house, no one really owns them and anyone can take any fruit or flower on it. But a lot of people might not know that any plant that grows in a public space belongs to the Majlis Perbandaran of the area. So taking any part of such a plant or tree is actually illegal and the penalty for it varies from town council to town council.
The bottom line is… if you're gonna remove any part of a tree, make sure it's on your property. If it isn't, it's best to just steer clear and leave it alone.