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.
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 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.
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.