Trees and Hedges – Common Law
Trees are an important part of our local environment and provide us with a variety of benefits that improve our quality of life. Most people agree that trees are a good thing, however they can sometimes create problems where they overhang boundaries, block light, or cause damage to property – Often disputes arise because trees grow!!
Under English Common Law there is a general right to cut overhanging branches back to your property boundary, however the owner of the tree is not usually obliged to cut them back – if you intend to cut overhanging
branches you must not go beyond your boundary or ‘top’ someone else’s trees without their permission and you should normally return the branches unless you agree beforehand to dispose of them yourself. It is always best to discuss any proposed work with your neighbour first to avoid any later claims of damage – you might even manage to get their help or agreement to remove more than you’re entitled to.
Loss of light
There is no absolute right to light or to a view, therefore you would normally need to negotiate with your neighbour about managing their trees. In extreme cases it is possible to apply to a magistrates court for an injunction to control or restrict the growth of trees however this requires specialist legal advice and only applies in limited circumstances – there is also no specific law on how tall trees are allowed to grow and cases for loss of light normally only applies to windows in buildings not gardens (see also ‘high hedges’ below).
Every tree owner has a general duty of care to ensure their trees do not pose an unacceptable risk to other people on or adjacent to their land – you will however only be liable for injury or damage caused by trees if you are found to be negligent in some way e.g. by not taking reasonable care to inspect them or undertake essential work such as removing deadwood that could easily be seen to be hazardous etc.
Falling leaves, fruit/flowers, debris
Although they can cause a lot of inconvenience, falling leaves & debris are not regarded as a ‘nuisance’ in the legal sense and a tree owner has no obligation to clear them – it is normally up to each landowner whether they own a tree or not to undertake their own ‘property maintenance’ if for example, they need to clear paths or gutters.
This relates to evergreen or semi evergreen hedges only, not ordinary deciduous trees. It is sometimes possible to apply for enforcement action from the Council to restrict the growth of a neighbours’ hedge if it exceeds a
certain height in relation to its distance from a property. There are specific criteria for doing this and also a cost.
Tree roots and damage to property
If a tree is found to be causing damage to a neighbouring property it is classed as a legal nuisance and the tree owner would normally be liable for the associated costs of any loss or damage. In the event of any form of damage it is advised that you notify your neighbour and also contact your property insurers for further advice – they can often investigate and deal with the issue on your behalf.