Despite all the benefits they provide, trees can also cause some issues, especially between neighbours.
Disputes over trees are a common cause of bad feeling between neighbours - especially when they block sun, when leaves from overhanging branches litter your property, or when roots choke drains.
These disputes can usually be settled with goodwill and compromise, but if this does not work, legal action may be your only remedy. This can be expensive and will almost certainly destroy any goodwill between neighbours.
The Property Law Act 2007 sets out your remedies when neighbours’ trees are causing damage or nuisance but it is worth trying to find a solution to the problem beforehand to minimise the risk of souring the good relationship you have with your neighbour. You also need to decide whether the problem outweighs the benefits the trees provide for both of you – beauty, privacy, shelter and shade.
Let your neighbour know how you feel about the problem and give them time to think about any suggestions you may have. Your neighbour may be happy to help with any work caused by their trees and this could save you both money.
If the situation remains unresolved you may need to take legal action. You should tell your neighbour that you are considering this avenue so that there are no “surprises” awaiting them in the mail. You may find that your neighbour may co-operate if there is a legal obligation for them to do so.
Common tree issues
Below are some examples of common tree issues that can occur between neighbours. Click on each link to find out how these can be resolved.
Most of these situations can be sorted out with some neighbourly discussion and common sense. If a solution can't be achieved between you, then your next step is to see your lawyer to ascertain your rights.
A tree’s roots on a neighbouring property continually block your drains.
Twice in recent times you have needed to employ a plumber to clear them. The plumber warns you to expect ongoing blocking of the drains and therefore further expense unless the cause of the problem is removed. Your neighbour is not interested and points out that the tree was growing on his property long before you purchased your property.
Do you have a comeback ? Absolutely! The law does not accept that a tree planted 30 years ago cannot be a nuisance today. If all facts were presented to the court your neighbour would probably be ordered to remove the tree.
Some roots of your neighbour’s tree start pushing up your lawn.
Your neighbour tells you there is nothing she can do and she is not prepared to remove the tree. You decide to take matters into your own hands by poisoning the roots on your side of the fence resulting in the whole tree dying.
Can your neighbour take you to court for this? Yes, she can. You are allowed to remove any part of a neighbour's tree that is on your property but your right of action stops at the boundary. Poisoning the roots would have an effect beyond your side of the boundary.
You have ‘amputated’ a large branch from a neighbour’s tree growing over onto your property and the tree dies.
Can your neighbour demand compensation? No, you were within your rights to cut off the branch on your side of the boundary.
Leaves from a neighbour’s tree continually drop into the guttering of your house.
Are allowed to prune branches which are growing over your property back to the fence. Or you can ask your neighbour to cut back the trees or remove them altogether. If your neighbour refuses, you may be able to obtain a court order to solve the problem.
The property next door to the new section you have bought has a large tree growing on it with branches growing over your side of the fence.
As mentioned before, you may cut off the branches on your side, but if they are long and thick, it could be quite a big job.
Is your neighbour obliged to cut them back himself or pay for it to be done? No, provided they are causing no nuisance, the branches are your responsibility if they are growing on your side of the fence.
A large old conifer is growing on the other side of your fence. The tree is obviously dying. Can you have the tree chopped down?
You are concerned the tree or part of it may fall and damage your house. Your neighbour doesn’t accept the tree is doing any harm or that it is likely to fall, and tells you to mind your own business.
Your lawyer could apply for a court order to have the tree removed. If the court agrees it could cause damage, then your neighbour will have no option but to remove it.
A fruit tree on your property spreads its branches onto your neighbour’s property. The neighbour picks the fruit growing on his side of the fence. Can you do anything about it?
Yes, a neighbour may not take your property and even if the branches are hanging on his property, the fruit belongs to you. The neighbour could, however, exercise his right to cut off the branches which are intruding onto his property.