Legal Series: Liabilities and Responsibilities of Ownership. A Quick Q&A

10th June 2021

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Many gardens have them and in Britain we love the presence of that shade-giving, season-welcoming, fauna habitat that is the tree. However, with great timber comes great responsibility, if I’m allowed to paraphrase Spiderman, because trees can also cause arguments, destroy property and cost you a small fortune in recompense, so it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities as a tree owner.

Q:  Who owns a tree that’s growing on the boundary line between my garden and my neighbour’s?
A:   You must first look at the point at which a tree meets the ground. If that is on your side but the tree leans over your neighbour’s garden, then it’s your tree. If the tree’s base is on the boundary line then you both own it jointly; therefore, you share the responsibility for its upkeep and the liability should it cause harm or damage.

Q:  Is there anything I can do if my neighbour’s tree is blocking light into my home or garden?
A:   The common misconception in cases like this is that the Right of Light Act 1959 is the legal route to take. However, it is in fact the High Hedges Act that you should use which places your local council in the position of mediator to attempt to find an amicable solution to your dispute or can act as judge by issuing a notice for work.

Q:  Can I cut back the branches and roots of my neighbour’s tree if they overhang or protrude into my garden?
A:   Yes. But carefully and without entering your neighbour’s garden. You do not need your neighbour’s permission to do this, but you do need to make sure that the work you undertake does not damage the tree’s health or stability. However, if the tree is in a Conservation Area or has a Tree Protection Order (TPO) on it you may need to seek appropriate permission before doing any pruning.

Q:  Am I allowed to collect the fruit from the branches of my neighbour’s tree that overhangs into my garden?
A:   I’m afraid not. In a strange twist of legal logic, you are allowed to cut off branches that overhang your garden, but you are not entitled to the fruit of branches that overhang your garden without the owner’s permission, even if that fruit drops into your garden without being picked. Legally speaking, all fruit produced by a neighbour’s tree is the property of the neighbour.

Q:  If my tree causes damage could I be sued?
A:   If you own a tree then you are responsible for making sure that all ‘foreseeable’ risks are minimalised. The first step to achieving this is a regular tree survey from a professional arborist. If you obtain this and maintain your tree properly in accordance with their recommendations, then if the unforeseeable happens and a branch from your tree falls on your neighbour’s car you have a strong defence that shows you have gone to appropriate lengths to minimalise the risk of this happening.

If this brief Q&A has made you wonder about the safety of your trees and whether there is anything more you can do to live up to your legal responsibilities, then call us on 0208 292 8992.

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