Trees are an integral part of our local environment and provide us with a variety of amenity benefits that improve our quality of life. Most people would agree that trees are a good thing, however they can sometimes create problems where by they overhang boundaries, block light, or cause damage to property. More often than not, disputes arise because trees grow!
Loss of light
There is no law for absolute right to light or to a view, therefore you would normally need to negotiate with your neighbour about managing/maintaining their trees. In extreme cases it is possible to apply to a magistrates court for an injunction to control or restrict the growth of trees. However this requires specialist legal advice and only applies in limited circumstances. There is also no specific law on how tall trees are allowed to grow, and cases for loss of light normally only applies to windows in buildings not specifically gardens (see also ‘high hedges’ below).
English Common Law states that there is a general right to cut overhanging branches back to your property boundary, however the owner of the tree is not usually obliged to cut them back. If you intend to cut overhanging branches you must not go beyond your boundary or ‘top’ someone else’s trees without their prior permission and you should normally return the branches unless you agree beforehand to dispose of them yourself. It is always courteous to discuss any proposed work with your neighbour first to avoid any later claims of damage. You might even manage to get their help or agreement to remove more than you’re entitled to.
High hedges Act
This legislation relates to evergreen or semi evergreen hedges only, not ordinary deciduous trees. It is sometimes possible to apply for enforcement action from the local Council to restrict the growth of a neighbours’ hedge if it exceeds a certain height in relation to its distance from a property. There are specific criteria for doing this and also a cost.
Every tree owner has a general duty of care to ensure their trees do not pose an unacceptable risk to public or property on or adjacent to their land. They will however only be liable for injury or damage caused by trees if they are found to be negligent in some way e.g. by not taking reasonable care to inspect their trees or undertake essential work such as removing deadwood that could easily be seen to be hazardous etc.
Tree roots and damage to property
If a tree is found to be causing damage to a neighbouring property it is classed as a legal nuisance and the tree owner would normally be liable for the associated costs of any loss or damage. In the event of any form of damage it is advised that you notify your neighbour and also contact your property insurers for further advice, they can often investigate and deal with the issue on your behalf.
Falling Leaves, Fruit, Flowers & Debris
Although they can cause a lot of inconvenience and irritation, falling leaves & debris are not regarded as a ‘nuisance’ in the legal sense, and a tree owner has no obligation to clear them. It is normally the responsibility of each landowner, whether they own a tree or not, to undertake their own ‘property maintenance’ if for example, they need to clear paths or gutters.