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Tall Trees and High Hedges – Your Rights and Responsibilities

Tall Trees and High Hedges – Your Rights and Responsibilities

Existing homeowners and prospective buyers alike can find themselves at odds with neighbours over unruly trees and boundary hedges

If your property shares a boundary with a neighbour's property, there are a few aspects of the law (and good neighbourliness) that you need to bear in mind regarding trees and hedges. This guide outlines what you need to know and also what you can and cannot do if you are having problems with a neighbour's trees.

Cutting back trees

You have a common law right to cut back tree branches that overhang onto your property. It is however always best to discuss with your neighbour about any trees / hedges you wish to cut back before doing so.

•The law states that any branches cut off belong to the person on whose land the tree originally grew, so you should ask your neighbour if they want them back, or if they are happy for you to dispose of them.
•Do not just throw trimmings back over the boundary - this could constitute 'fly tipping'. Ask your neighbour whether they would like any trimmings back.
•Equally any fruit on trees, even if they are growing on branches which overhang your property, still belongs to your neighbour. You are therefore stealing if you pick these for yourself without your neighbours' permission.


How much is too much?

“My neighbour recently contacted me to say she was going to get the overhanging branches from the large tree in my garden removed and that some branches may end up in my garden. I said I didn't have a problem with her removing any overhanging branches.
However, I got up this morning to find that my trees had been basically chopped down. The overhanging branches were indeed removed but right down to the tree trunk! I now have a line of bare tree on my side. I understand that they have a right to cut back to the boundary line but these trees are not on the boundary line - do I have any rights regarding this situation?”

•If you are pruning a neighbours' tree, be careful that you do not damage the tree further back than your boundary.
•If you damage the tree on their side, they may claim against you for the replacement cost of the tree.
•Be careful to check if any trees are subject to a preservation order - your local authority will be able to tell you this. If you cut down a tree with a preservation order, you will be guilty of an offence under section 210 or 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Can we invoice a neighbour for tree cutting?

“There is a 20 metre long fence between us and our neighbour with a wall of fir trees growing on the neighbour's side of the fence. We hired a gardener to trim the fir tree branches back to the border of the fence. Can we send the invoice received from the gardener to the neighbour?”

The short answer is no - if you choose to cut down overhanging branches, or trim trees, you will have to pay for the cost of doing so yourself. Try speaking to your neighbour however as you may be able to reach some sort of agreement in relation to any gardening work required, though they are not obliged to contribute to this cost. Note that you are not entitled to access to your neighbour's property to enable you trim the branches on your side of the boundary without their permission.

Ownership of trees

Sometimes you may be unsure who owns the trees causing you concerns or the trees may be part of a shared boundary and you are unsure who is responsible for their maintenance:

A tree belongs to whoever owns the property upon which the tree trunk originally grows, even if the branches or roots have begun to spread onto another property. The owner has a duty to maintain this tree so that it does not cause a hazard. Therefore if branches are broken and hanging precariously, the owner should remove these.

If a tree is planted on the border line between properties, you should check your Property Title Documents to see if these give ownership to one property. If not, you both share the duty to maintain the trees, and these should not be cut down without prior consent from both owners. To check your title deeds visit the land registry website. If you are considering buying a property, your conveyancing solicitor will be making these checks.

There is no such thing as 'no man's land'. All land and therefore all trees are owned by somebody.

Damage caused by overhanging trees

You cannot force your neighbour to remove overhanging branches or fallen leaves on your property. However if these cause excessive damage, you can sue them for the cost of repair. It is however always better to try to amicably resolve any disputes with your neighbours before resorting to the courts, which is often a long and potentially expensive process - remember you still have to live next to this person, so an amicable solution will often lead to a more comfortable living environment.

If any damage was caused by a tree from your neighbours' property due to 'an Act of God', such as a thunderstorm, any damage was not foreseeable. Your neighbour will not therefore be responsible for this. If any damage caused to your property is severe, you may wish to contact your buildings insurance company about this.

•Falling leaves, fruit, flowers, and pollen are annoying, but you cannot legally ask your neighbour to prevent this or remove any fallen debris.
•Liability to remove any fallen leaves etc. lies with the owner of the property affected (or the tenants if they have maintenance obligations which include gardening).
•Whilst falling leaves are annoying, they are not legally a 'nuisance', which has a very specific meaning.

Right to Light

The Rights of Light Act 1959 states that if a Property has received daylight for the last 20 years (the minimum prescribed period), they may be entitled to continue to receive that light. This means that if your neighbour builds a large fence or there are large trees which restrict the daylight your Property receives (for example by blocking daylight reaching a window), you may be able to apply to the courts for your daylight to be restored, or for any injunction to prevent a proposed fence being built.

If trees have a Preservation Order, this suggests that the Property does not have a Right to Light, as it will not have had a continuous period of daylight for at least 20 years. Usually the only way you can prune a tree with a Preservation Order is if it has become dangerous.

•There is no right to direct sunlight, only daylight.
•Even if you have a right to light, the amount of light is restricted to approximately equivalent to one foot of candlelight - more than most people receive anyway.
•You do not have any right to a view which is obscured by trees. Equally you have no right to not have a view if trees previously covered an undesirable feature such as a brick wall.

Dangerous Trees

If you are concerned that a tree is diseased or damaged and poses a danger due to having fallen, or being at risk of falling, you should contact the owner of the land on which the tree is growing. If the land belongs to the local council, contact them to request that the tree is cut down or pruned.

If you are unable to contact the land owner or they refuse to take action, contact your local council's Environmental Health Office. The owner is not under any legal duty to take action, but will be liable if a tree they knew to be damaged caused damage to property or injury to a person.

As prevention is often better than waiting for damage or injury to occur however, the Environmental Health Office may be able to invoke the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 if the tree poses an immediate risk to Property or people. This allows them to serve notice on the land owner to make the tree safe. If they fail to do so, the Environmental Health Office may undertake this work themselves. The land owner would then usually be charged for any gardening required.

If you would like further help or advice regarding this or any aspect of conveyancing, please contact Sue Alexander on 01325 466461 or email sue.alexander@close-thornton.co.uk

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