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Litigation and Dispute Resolution

Neighbour disputes: trees

Arguments between neighbours can fester for years leading to bitterness and resentment and even violence. Disputes over trees are much more common than you might think and usually concern encroaching tree roots causing damage, overhanging branches creating a nuisance or most commonly tall trees blocking out light.

  • Tree roots

      Tree roots can cause enormous damage including blocking and splitting underground pipes, and cracking and/or causing subsidence to walls and buildings. The person who owns the tree will be liable for damage to his neighbour’s land, even if he himself did not plant the tree.

      Where there is any question of root damage, it would be advisable to inform your building surveyor of the problem and also to obtain a report from a surveyor to identify what the cause of the damage is.

      In a strict interpretation of the law, encroaching roots may be pruned back to the boundary. However, this may render the tree dangerous in the future, leaving the neighbour whose garden was being encroached upon liable for any damage that occurs as a result of such pruning. Therefore it is sensible to obtain the neighbour’s permission before pruning his tree roots and to carry out any such pruning in accordance with good horticultural or arboricultural practice.

  • Overhanging branches

      It is fairly well known that you are entitled to cut back your neighbour’s overhanging branches to the boundary line. Strictly speaking, you should return the branches to your neighbour as they remain his property. It is important to realise that neighbour disputes are often the most bitter, and therefore you would be well advised to have a word with your neighbour before trimming back his branches to let him know your intentions. This will ensure that good neighbourly relations are preserved.

  • Tall trees/hedges

      People in cities are increasingly planting fast growing shrubs such as leylandii in order to obtain some privacy from their neighbours. This sometimes causes unhappiness where the trees cast a shadow and block light.

      There is no automatic right to light in law, although you may have acquired the right if you have enjoyed it for more than 20 years.

      The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 created new procedures to enable local authorities to deal with complaints concerning high hedges. Although the Act does not set a general requirement that all hedges should be kept below a certain height, the Act enables local authorities to take into account various factors when deciding whether or not it would be reasonable to issue a notice to the offending neighbour obliging him to reduce the height of his hedges. Failure to comply with such a notice could result in Magistrates Court proceedings and the end result could be a fine and/or the local authority sending in contractors to do the job themselves, at the offender’s cost. You should consider the following:-

      • Reporting tall trees/hedges to the Council should be a last resort.
      • A fee is payable to the Council, which cannot be recovered.
      • The Council would expect neighbours to have entered into negotiations and they may expect neighbours to attempt mediation before making a report to them.
      • It is important for neighbours to keep evidence of any attempts to reach an agreement i.e. diary notes, copies of letters sent.
      • To make a report, the hedge must be at least two metres tall. The height is measured from ground level.
      • The hedge must be obstructing light/view.
      • The ground for complaint is: does the hedge detract from the reasonable enjoyment of your home or garden because it is too tall?
      • The Act does not deal with problems caused by roots.
      • The Council cannot order that the hedges are removed entirely.
      • The Council cannot order that the hedge is cut down below two metres.
      • The Council will order your neighbour to reduce the height to a size that will remedy the problem.
      • The Council can also order your neighbour to prevent the problem occurring again.
      • If your neighbour fails to carry out the works in the Notice, they can be fined up to £1,000.