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Can I Trim my Neighbour’s Tree? Your Rights Explained.

Trees can bring a great deal of pleasure to a garden. They can provide shade; add a point of interest and bring spectacular colour when in spring bloom. On the other side of the coin however, they can prove a nuisance if they are left to grow uncontrolled, especially if you are not the owner of the tree but instead they are rooted in a neighbour’s garden. So what to do if a neighbour’s tree is overhanging into your garden, or has grown so tall that it is blocking your light? Let’s tackle the issue in full.

Trimming a Neighbour’s Tree: Your Rights Explained

The first thing to establish when planning your course of action to tackle an overhanging tree on neighbouring land is precisely who owns the tree.

A tree will always belong to the owner of the land where it was originally planted. Even if the tree’s branches or roots have started to encroach on neighbouring land, this is the case. What’s more, if the tree bears fruit or flowers, it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to take them without permission from the owner, even if they overhang your own land.

If a tree appears to be planted on the border line between properties, check your Title Deeds to see if there is any mention of ownership of the tree. If neither set of deeds make any mention of the tree, then you will both share the responsibility of maintaining the tree and will need to consult with each other concerning any work to be carried out on them. In other words, both owners will need to consent to the work. You can check your Title Deeds via the Land Registry website.

If the tree is situated on local authority owned land, then you must contact the relevant council department to request they arrange to have it pruned.

What is the law on overhanging branches?

If there are branches from a neighbour’s tree growing over into your garden then you have a right to cut them back, but only to the boundary point that runs between your property and your neighbour’s. This is providing the tree is not protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or situated in a Conservation Area. If it is, then you will need to seek further advice from your local authority. Trimming a tree with this type of protection is an offence under Section 210 or 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. If the tree has become hazardous however, it may be possible to obtain permission to deal with it. But no work can be done until this permission is officially granted.

If you trim back the branches of a neighbour’s tree, then they are within their rights to ask for the branches and any fruit on them to be returned. However, this does not mean that you have the right to throw the branches into your neighbour’s garden as this could be considered fly tipping. If your neighbour has not requested their return, then it is down to you to dispose of them.

Always remember that you are not legally allowed to gain access to your neighbour’s land to trim back a tree. This is considered trespassing and you could be prosecuted.

It is always a good idea, and the neighbourly thing to do, to talk to your neighbour before trimming their tree. It is polite to warn them, and they may even offer to do the job themselves.

What to consider when trimming a neighbour’s tree?

As well as ensuring that the tree is not subject to protection by a TPO or situated in a Conservation Area, you will need to be careful not to damage the tree on your neighbour’s side. If you do, they have the right to claim against you for the cost of replacing the tree.

What can I do about tree roots encroaching on my land?

The law allows you to dig up and remove any tree roots that have grown through onto your land from a neighbouring tree.

Roots are known to cause a lot of damage and can be responsible for subsidence and landslip which are very serious and expensive issues to resolve. If you suspect that subsidence has become a problem due to a neighbour’s tree roots, then you will need to seek professional advice from a tree surgeon and usually also from a structural engineer.

Who is responsible for the costs of trimming overhanging branches?

The costs for removing the branches from a tree that overhang onto your property are down to you.

However, if the tree has caused significant damage to your property, for example its leaves have been seriously affecting your guttering beyond just blocking it, then you are within your rights to ask your neighbour to pay to have them cleared, or to cover the costs of any damage caused. If they refuse, then you can take legal action to force them to pay.

If the damage was caused by an act of God, for example a storm, then officially, providing there is evidence that the owner of the tree was keeping it well maintained and it had not become dangerous, the owner will not be responsible for any repair costs as the event would not have been foreseeable. However, if the tree was not being taken care of, then the point could be argued that it would not have fallen or shed branches if it had been regularly trimmed, dead-wooded and checked for signs of disease.

If a neighbour’s tree roots have caused damage to your property then they will be responsible for the costs involved in seeking professional assistance to resolve the problem. These costs can usually be claimed against a home insurance policy.

What about dangerous trees?

Any tree you consider a danger should be immediately reported to the landowner with a request to deal with it. Diseased or damaged trees pose a high risk of falling or shedding branches, especially during storms and high winds.

If you are unable to contact the landowner or if they refuse to take appropriate action, then you should contact your local council’s Environmental Health department.

Can I complain about overgrown trees?

There is a very specific process to follow if you wish to make a complaint to the local council about overgrown trees.

The first step, and you will need evidence of this, is to attempt to settle the issue informally. If you don’t feel able to talk to your neighbour, then you can write a letter, clearly outlining the issue. If other neighbours are affected by the problem, get them to write a letter as well.

If you have been through this process and are still unable to resolve the matter, then you can request a complaint form from your local council. However, your tree must fit into all three of these categories:

  1. There are two or more mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs
  2. The trees or shrubs are over two metres in height
  3. The trees are affecting your enjoyment of your home or garden because they are too tall

It may be necessary to pay a fee to the council to consider your complaint. The documents you need and further information on the complaints process can be found on the government website.

The Importance of Professional Tree Pruning

If you are planning to trim the branches of a neighbour’s tree that are overhanging your property, you are wise to call in professional assistance in the form of a qualified and experienced tree surgeon.

Tree surgeons know the law on tree pruning in-depth, and will ensure that the tree is trimmed only to the boundary, and that it is carried out using the correct methods and at the right time for the particular species of tree so that no damage is caused and good neighbourly relations can be maintained.

If you would like some tailored advice on tree pruning, talk to the experts at TH Trees Ltd. With over 15 years’ experience, a respected reputation throughout Essex and Trading Standards and local authority approval, we are well placed to provide the guidance you need. We look forward to being of assistance.

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