Note: The DearEsq free 'ask a lawyer' site is offered as a free informational service to the public and is not intended as legal advice. Laws vary from state-to-state, and in addition every situation is unique, and relevant facts may not be known. The answer to the question posed below may not apply to in your state or to your situation. For legal advice in your state and your situation you should consult with an attorney in your state who is familiar with the rules and laws in your state.
I live in Tennessee. Our neighbor has been cutting down trees and shrubs located in the 15-foot common area between our houses. He has also cut behind and in the common ground of his neighbors, whose back yards border our property. Is this legal? Also our home is considered county and theirs is in the city limits. Are there any laws governing common ground use? Thank you.
This is a tricky question. A property owner generally has the right to cut any limbs or roots of a tree encroaching on his property, so long as it does not damage the tree. A property owner cannot usually unilaterally cut down a tree that is not on his property. You say that these trees are located in a common area, but do you mean that it is owned by an HOA, or by your city or county? Are you certain that he is cutting beyond his own property? These questions are important, because they can change how you deal with the situation. Someone owns this property, and that person or entity is who would need to pursue the homeowner for cutting down the trees.
If the trees are on his property, but there is a public right of way, he is probably entitled to cut the trees and shrubs. If the property is owned by an HOA, then the HOA would need to file a suit against the homeowner for trespassing and property damage. If the HOA is defunct, it can be restarted for a purpose such as this. If the land is owned by the city or county, those entities would have to approach the homeowner and would probably cite him. If the land is owned by other neighbors, they would be able to file a suit against the homeowner for trespass and damage. Even if the homeowner is cutting the trees inappropriately, he may be doing so for a good reason. Having a discussion with him directly may clarify the situation for everyone.
Short of a conversation, and short of complaining to the city or county, a local property attorney would be able to advice you as to appropriate legal steps to stop the cutting.