Tree-related issues are often the cause of neighbour disputes, but what you can and can’t do is far from straightforward. Here Hayley Wharton explains why.
Talking through a problem is the easiest and cheapest solution
It’s always best to try to reach an amicable resolution by speaking to your neighbour direct about issues such as problematic tree branches.
This is because legal disputes can become expensive, cause significant bad feeling and ultimately reduce the value of your property.
The conveyancing process means you must declare any problems you have had with your neighbours, and clearly a prospective purchaser of your property could be put off by a history of disputes and poor relations.
What you can chop, and what you can’t
If attempts to negotiate a solution fail, the law is very clear: since the tree belongs to your neighbour, you can’t chop it down.
If you cut branches or remove a tree on your neighbour’s property, this is trespass and he or she may have a claim for damages covering the cost of replacing the tree with a mature one, as well as any remedial clearing, planting or landscaping work.
However, you are within your rights to lop off any branches that overhang your property, up the boundary fence – though you are obliged to offer your neighbour any cut-offs. Also, you must not simply throw the branches you have cut over the fence onto your neighbour’s side.
How to use anti-social legislation to solve your problem
You can also complain to your local authority under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 if the height of a high hedge affects your enjoyment of your property. A high hedge is defined as a line of trees comprising at least two evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs and a hedge height of more than two metres above ground level.
Local councils will charge a fee, and some may be reluctant to take action, but ant-social legislation is a potentially useful remedy.
Upholding and establishing a right to light
A frequent source of neighbour disputes involving tree branches is that they block off natural light and you should carefully check your deeds to find out if they contain a specific right to light.
It is also possible to establish a right to light if you can demonstrate that you have had 20 years of uninterrupted enjoyment.
However, it is important to keep in mind that there will often be a degree of uncertainty because cases tend to hinge on their own peculiar facts and sets of circumstances. For example, the particular angle of light coming into windows has been an essential factor in many cases.
This area of law is complex and if you believe your right to light is being blocked, a professional inspection of the situation on the ground is advisable.
Getting to the root of the problem
Sometimes problems between neighbours are caused by tree roots. Again, the first course of action is to speak to your neighbour in an attempt to sort out the issue amicably.
If this cannot be done and the matter results in legal proceedings, you may be able to argue that the tree has damaged your wall or a jointly owned wall. Damage caused by tree roots could be an issue with a legal remedy, but it would not give you the right to cut down your neighbour’s tree.
You are, though, within your rights to dig up and remove any roots that have encroached on your land.
For further advice on neighbour disputes, call Hayley Wharton on 0161 761 8062 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org