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Legal Series: The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall Out of Favour with Neighbours

14th July 2021

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We are often called in to deal with trees that have got their owners into legal hot water, so we thought you might appreciate a quick overview of the sort of trouble your garden trees could be getting you into with your neighbours.

Safety Is Your Responsibility
If a tree (or any part of a tree) falls and damages property owned by someone else, or worse still, if it lands on someone (by the way, this includes visitors and even trespassers on your land as well as anyone outside your property boundary who might be injured), then you may be liable in law.

The matter the courts will be interested in, should this happen, is what ‘reasonable care’ was taken to identify any issues with your tree and what action was taken to avoid such a thing from happening.

Trees, and parts of trees, don’t just fall for no reason, but there are a range of causes that may go unnoticed by the average homeowner which could result in such an event.

A poorly structured tree that leans or has been allowed to flourish unevenly could be weighted in such a way as to be susceptible to storm damage. Perfectly healthy trees fall over in storms, but if you have allowed your tree to grow in such a way as to increase this risk then this could be reason enough for the law to take an interest. On top of this you have overextended limbs, insect infestation, disease, and untreated damage, all of which can impact on a tree’s integrity, weakening it to the point where it has a greater chance of falling over.

Tree Trespass
If your tree’s branches or roots are hanging over or burrowing under your neighbour’s boundary line, then you have the potential for a dispute on your hands.

They have the legal right under common law to prune any branches and roots from your trees that invade their land, though, of course, they have to do this without harming your tree, or you have a legal right to recourse yourself.

As overextended branches have the potential to fall, causing damage or injury, and roots can impact buildings and structures, it would make sense to avoid the possibility of issues with your neighbour and deal with the offending tree yourself before it can cause any problems, cutting it back to limit branch and root growth.

Work Restrictions
However, should you be tempted to take a chainsaw to parts of a neighbour’s tree that has encroached on your property, first check that there is no Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on it. While you’re at it, you should check that any tree you wish to do anything to is not in a Conservation Area and has no Restricted Covenants on it. All these, if ignored, could create a less than amicable situation between you and your neighbour.

  • TPO. This is where a tree has been protected and registered as such at your local planning authority. Any species can be protected and a TPO could be for one tree or all the trees in a specified area. Cut back or cut down a tree with a TPO on it and you could be facing criminal charges… best to check first then.
  • Conservation Area. If you live in a conservation area you must give six weeks’ written notice to your local planning authority explaining what you wish to do to the tree to give them an opportunity to decide whether to slap a TPO on your tree or not. This is for all trees that are 7.5cm or more in diameter at a height of 1.5m above the ground.
  • Restricted Covenants. This is a legal restriction bound to the property, not the property’s owner. So, if you buy a property with a restricted covenant you inherit the responsibility to abide by it. This may require you to gain someone else’s permission before doing any work on the trees in your garden.

Right to Light
Despite what you may think, you do not have an automatic right to light in your home. There is an act that covers this, the Rights of Light Act 1959, but it’s to do with constructions on your neighbour’s land and how they may restrict light in your home. Trees on the other hand may restrict light, but a Rights to Light case would be tough to prove, so this is where good neighbourliness comes in. Do not run to the solicitor if your neighbour’s trees start to dull your daylight, pop next door and have a chat with them about it to find an amicable solution that suits everyone.

To book a Tree Survey to determine the risks your trees may pose, to discuss a tree maintenance plan that will keep your trees in best health to avoid incident, or to discover more about your tree's legal rights and responsibilities, call us on 0208 292 8992. We’re always happy to pop round or to help with a little advice.

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