What Is The Law On Overgrown Trees
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If a tree from a neighbours property is encroaching onto your property you may want to know: what is the law on overgrown trees? This article looks at the law and dealing with trees.
Trees And The Law
We value the trees in our private gardens and parks, as they give aesthetic appeal and amenity value, among housing wildlife and nurturing an ecosystem. It's only when tree roots begin to overgrow, overhanging branches and large trees cross the property boundary line that we start to consider tree pruning, cutting or felling.
Many trees do not belong to one person and are owned by the local council in your area. The Tree Preservation Order (TPO) exists to protect trees of interest in conservation areas, and you need a felling licence when cutting down a protected tree. More information on this can be found on the Forestry Commission website, as you should contact your local planning authority before tree work begins.
In the case of private homes, where tree bases sit on the boundary line between your home and the neighbouring property, it is jointly owned by both parties. This, of course, can lead to disagreements with neighbours about tree ownership and who is legally entitled to complete work on the tree.
If you are interested or require information about Common Law or Statute Law in your area, you may find this article helpful. For further information in your area, please contact your local council.
If you disagree with your neighbour about a tree or hedge....
Neighbour disputes about a tree or hedge are normal, especially as interests and tastes butt heads. Overhanging branches into your garden or a hedge that is too tall may interfere with your garden, but you shouldn't take action before consulting your neighbour.
A general rule of thumb to remember is if the main trunk is on your land, you legally own the tree. When the tree trunk is on the neighbour's property, it is the neighbour's tree.
As stated above, a tree trunk that sits on the boundary between the two homes typically belongs to both parties, and a conclusion must be reached between the two of them.
Sometimes, where an owner of the tree may be blurred, checking the legal documentation of the property will establish boundary lines.
Once you have checked who owns the tree, you should attempt to find a solution that you and your neighbour agree with. While you may hold legal ownership over the tree, the effect cutting it has may disturb your neighbours more than you, so you should consult them.
If trimming and pruning the hedge or tree will become a regular thing to keep daylight optimal in the garden, you could reach an agreement that you split the cost between both homes, for instance.
If agreeing with your neighbour is impossible, there are still things you can do even if they own the tree. Where branches overhang into your garden, you are legally allowed to cut them to the boundary line, but no further than that. They still legally own those branches, and the Theft Act of 1968 prevents you from throwing away or keeping branches, foliage or fruit without permission from your neighbour.
They can request them back at any point, so it's always worth checking before throwing them away.
Dangerous trees that your neighbour owns, ones that could be a risk to other nearby trees or the health of you and the general public, should be reported to the council if your neighbour is not doing anything about it.
All of these rules apply to your neighbours too, if you own a tree and they want to cut back branches to the boundary line but can take it no further. The tree owner decides design choices and aesthetic appeal, so you cannot start making big changes to the tree if it is not legally yours.
The Rights of Light Act 1959 does give you flexibility over some tree pruning and proposed building developments.
If your home has received sunlight for the last 20+ years and a tree is now preventing sunlight from entering your garden, either due to a neighbour not trimming or other circumstances, there are things you can do.
If a proposed fence build is being put forward and this would also affect your sunlight, you can request that this not go ahead. This, of course, works both ways if your neighbour complains your plans are blocking their sunlight.
On a similar note, if you are a tenant who rents the property, you must consult your landlord before trying to solve the problem. There may be more issues caused by you attempting to cut back the tree, and they may have a professional tree surgeon service they prefer to use.
You should always check the tree is not protected by the Tree Preservation Order beforehand, even if the landlord believes they own it. You will need written permission from your local council before you can complete the work.
Your Rights on Trees & Overhanging Branches
When determining your rights about trees and overhanging branches in your neighbours garden, there are a few steps you can take to ensure no one is in the wrong.
Understandably, you want control over your garden, as trees can bring about more maintenance when leaves shed on your grass, pests and insects, blocked sunlight and more problems. However, it's worth understanding these steps before you hastily complete tree work:
Establishing Tree Ownership
As discussed above, the tree belongs to the person whose land the main trunk grows on.
If this trunk is on your land, it belongs to you, but your neighbour can change the parts that overhang in their garden up to the border.
The Theft Act 1968 does prevent you or your neighbour from taking fruit, branches or foliage from a tree that is not their own, but most neighbours will not have a problem with this.
You should always ask beforehand if you're not sure, as they can legally ask for you to return any fruit you collect from overhanging branches.
Overhanging Tree Branches
If the tree in question is not under a Tree Preservation Order, any overhanging branches can be cut back to the dividing point between the two properties, even by the one who doesn't own it.
The Theft Act prevents you from keeping or throwing away the branches before offering them back, but most neighbours won't want the dead branches returned, and you can throw them away. If the neighbouring tree is causing damage to your gutters or home, you should ask your neighbour to pay for clearance and any damages.
In an instance where they refuse to pay for these charges, you can sue them and force them to pay for the damages the tree has caused. Of course, fallen leaves that enter your garden do not need to be reported or returned, as this is a natural process.
In the same way that branches can enter your property, tree roots can invade, and you are legally allowed to remove them up to the barrier before damage is caused.
When tree roots grow out of control, structural issues can occur to your property and other plants, so it's important you hire a professional tree surgeon to remove them as safely as possible without damaging the tree itself.
The tree owner is responsible for the cost of removing these roots, so you should inquire with your neighbour before doing this, even on your own property.
Access to the roots can be challenging but must be dealt with before greater concern is raised.
Tree Preservation Orders
Despite all of this, there could still be tree preservation orders on trees or hedges in your garden or neighbour's garden that you're unaware of. Many trees growing around your home will be protected by the local authority, and permission must be obtained before work begins.
If a tree falls under that protection and you are caught felling or cutting down without prior permission or consent from the Royal Horticultural Society or local council, you are liable to a hefty fee.
This criminal damage and offence can lead to a fine of up to Â£20,000 in some cases, doubling the value of the original tree, and you must replant 3:1 for every tree you cut down. There are situations where cutting trees is the only option. For example, if the tree's health is at risk and the result could cause bodily harm and damage caused to a public footpath, legal action must take place, and a tree surgeon will be called in.
If you require further assistance from a professional tree surgeon company, please reach out to our team today. We can assess any trees causing problems and, in most cases, will aim to save the tree while solving your problem.
We offer tree felling, tree surveys and tree removal in Northampton, Milton Keynes and Bedford.
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