Property disputes can arise from any number of causes most of which usually relate to things done by neighbouring occupiers. One area of dispute that is more of a ‘natural’ source of arguments between owners of neighbouring property is the management (or lack thereof) of gardens and the things that grow in them. Trees in particular can be a source of trouble, especially when they are near to or form part of the boundaries of properties.
As with other areas of property law, dealing with disputes over trees can be complex and expensive if things get out of hand. An amicable solution is generally preferable to heading to court but understanding the legal position early on can help avoid things from escalating that far. A good solicitor can also help recommend services such as alternative dispute resolution if the parties cannot overcome their differences informally between themselves.
Legal Issues Relating to Trees
Trees situated on property are usually owned by the owner of that property unless they form part of a boundary. Despite this it does not mean that owners can necessarily do as they please.
An important limit on owners rights over trees is that posed by tree preservation orders (TPOs) which, since 6 April 2012, have been governed by the Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation)(England) Regulations 2012. A TPO makes it an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a protected tree without the permission of the local authority.
Another area that local authorities have some control over is overly high hedges. If a hedge is evergreen or semi-evergreen, over 2m high and “unreasonably restricting” light to a property, the owner of that property a make a complaint to the local authority which can result in them issuing a remedial notice backed by a potential fine.
Where tree branches overhang into neighbouring property or roots grow into it, that neighbour has a right at their own expense to cut back the branches or roots to their boundary but no further. Those branches or roots belong to the owner of the tree so it is best to request permission first to enable disposal. It is important to also note that fruit on overhanging branches belongs to the owner of the tree.
Trees forming part of a boundary are likely to be jointly owned; this is something that may be set out in the deeds to the property. In this case the parties are jointly responsible for maintenance.
Where damage is caused by a tree to neighbouring property, there may be potential for a claim depending on the nature of that damage. A falling tree is unlikely to be foreseeable which would make bringing a claim difficult, other forms of damage such as blockages caused to drains or guttering by roots or leaves may form the basis of a claim.
Disputes relating to trees can be legally complex and the most cost-effective solution will not normally involve the courts. For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.