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The neighbour’s trees – your rights, their obligations and how to avoid an all-out territory war

09 Sep 2019

The neighbour’s trees – your rights, their obligations and how to avoid an all-out territory war
The neighbour’s trees – your rights, their obligations and how to avoid an all-out territory war
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People can be funny creatures – they can be so kind and friendly off their own backs, but ask them to do something they feel might be an inconvenience to them, that they don’t want to spend money on, or they simply cannot be bothered to do and watch how quickly the mood changes… trees are far more predictable!

The Metropolitan Police website cites five common types of disputes between neighbours2 and number four on that list is ‘overgrowing trees and hedges’. When it comes to our home and property – everything in our own little private kingdom – we can be quite protective. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but when your neighbour’s tree is impacting on your kingdom, both parties can approach the issue from a calm and sensible place, or from a position of entitlement. Guess which causes the kind of dispute that had trees and hedges listed just below ‘property boundary disputes’ on the police website.
 
So, before you go out and hire a DeWalt DCM575X1 54V XR Flexvolt (with multi-volt charger) to take matters into your own hands (for use on the tree, just in case there was any wriggle room for misunderstanding on what I was implying there), it’d make sense to read this article as it should help to avoid the messy business of lawsuits and residual animosity between you and those people over the fence from you.
 
We’ve put together answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions that we get asked about neighbour’s trees.
 

  1. What can I do if the branches of my neighbour’s tree hang over my property?
It is perfectly legal for you to prune or cut them back. However, this does come with a number of provisions: 1) you are not allowed into your neighbour’s garden without their permission, 2) you must make sure that the tree is not covered by a Tree Protection Order (TPO) and that it doesn’t fall within a conservation area, because if it does you’ll need to get permission from the local authority to do the work, and 3) you must make sure that any work you do on your side of the fence does not damage the tree, because if your work contributes to its ill-health, then you may be liable for this.
 
  1. What can I do if the roots of my neighbour’s tree stretch under my property?
Contrary to popular opinion, roots rarely cause direct damage to foundations, in the war of wood on concrete, concrete almost always wins. That isn’t to say roots don’t cause damage, because they certainly can, just in ways you might not realise. Roots act like straws, sucking the moisture out of the ground to feed the tree. The more roots, the more moisture loss and the greater the possibility of this destabilising the ground under or around foundations, causing subsidence. The most common moisture-thirsty culprit in the UK is the Armenian Oak (or Quercus). The rules around what you can do about roots are very similar to those for overhanging branches. You’re within your rights to cut back roots that snake across your garden, so long as this does not compromise the health of your neighbour’s tree.
 
  1. Do I own the tree that’s growing on the boundary line with my neighbour?
If the point at which the tree meets the ground is on the boundary line between your own and your neighbour’s gardens then you both own the tree jointly. This means you are both equally responsible for its upkeep, safety, and, I’m afraid, any damage it might cause, should it (or part of it) fall on someone’s property or person.
 
  1. Can I pick the fruit growing on the overhanging branches of my neighbour’s tree?
Surprisingly, no. The law states that all fruit produced by your neighbour’s tree is the property of your neighbour, even if the branches of that tree overhang your garden, and even if that fruit drops on your side of the fence.
 
  1. Should my neighbour pay to get their tree cut?
Although it may seem like they should, there is no legal duty on a tree owner to cut their trees back or down (unless the tree’s growth constitutes a real and present danger). In practice, if you have a great relationship with your neighbour you might speak with them about nuisance height and light issues and come to an amicable agreement. Sometimes, when a tree overhangs both gardens, neighbours club together and agree to pay for this maintenance jointly. However, this is rare, and I’m afraid that it is far more common to have to take care of overhanging branches yourself.
 
So, should you have a tree that shares your neighbour’s boundary line, if their tree hangs over your garden, or vice versa, there’s a right and a wrong way of approaching this.
 
The wrong way is to hack away at it yourself. If you don’t have any tree surgeon or arborist experience then you may do more harm than good, and even if your intentions are good you could end up permanently harming a tree and, therefore, being liable for damages.
 
The right way is to:
  1. Go and speak to your neighbour. It’s amazing what can be thrashed out with a good neighbourly chat. If you’re both reasonable people, as I’m sure you are, then an amicable way forward can be found and everyone knows what’s what.
  2. Prune regularly. If your tree has growths that invade your neighbour’s garden, regular pruning on your side of the fence will stunt its growth on their side of the fence. If your neighbour’s tree overhangs your garden, then a regular small amount of pruning will be far better for the tree’s health than a blitz once in a longer while.
  3. Call in a professional. For advice on how regularly to prune, what can be done with problem branches or roots, if you’re worried about the stability of your neighbour’s tree, or even to remove your tree should you worry about it being a serious subsidence risk to your neighbour’s property, call in a professional. A good tree surgeon will carry out their work to British Standard BS 3998, which is a quality standard covering all work on trees – everything from health and safety on the job to biosecurity and the protection of the lives and habitat of creatures that may be affected by the tree surgeon’s work. However, the best of the best in the tree surgeon world are those that are ARB Approved, as just 1 in 50 firms have what it takes to meet these demanding standards.
 
And so, to summarise:
 
Seek advice from a qualified professional
 
  A tree surgeon or arborist that works in compliance with BS3998 and/or an ARB Approved firm will give you all the guidance you’ll need.
Recognise the issues trees can cause
 
  Subsidence, excessive shade, blocked views, falling branches, unstable trees falling over.
Cut back branches or roots you’re worried about
 
  Perfectly fine as long as you don’t damage the tree in the process.
Identify ownership
 
  Which side of the fence does the tree meet the ground? If on the boundary line, it’s jointly owned.
 
Happy neighbour, happy neighbourhood
 
  Involve your neighbour, discuss the worries or issues as you see them and find an amicable way forward.
 
 
To book a free survey and consultation with one of the few ARB Approved tree surgeons in the region, call us on 0208 292 8992.

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