When changing the appearance of a property, homeowners may choose to extend or alter the structure of the house itself, work which will require planning permission to avoid breaking any laws. However, when it comes to the garden area, many homeowners are unaware of the legalities involved with cutting down any trees or hedges, causing them to become embroiled in a neighbourly dispute which could cause either party to seek legal action and end up in court.
At Artemis, we try to pre-empt any problems by insisting on a signed neighbour consent form before we begin work, so all parties involved are in agreement of the work. Here are some key considerations you should take into account when embarking on work in your garden to avoid any disagreements or legal disputes with your neighbours.
You want to cut down a tree in your garden:
What are the legalities involved?
As a homeowner, you are within your rights to trim any branches or roots which cross the boundary from your neighbour’s land or a public road into your property – anything more than this can be considered as trespassing and may result in court action for property damage. Work should be never be done if it causes the tree to decline or become unstable, nor if the tree is protected by a TPO or Conservation Area designation.
If you are a tenant living in rented accommodation, it is typically considered to be your responsibility to sort out the basic garden maintenance e.g. mowing the lawn and cutting back weeds. That said, in most tenancy agreements, the upkeep of any trees is not considered to be your responsibility and will fall under the remit of the landlord.
What are the ownership rules for the trees on your property?
Essentially, whoever owns the land the tree has originally grown from owns the tree itself, even if the branches or roots encroach onto a neighbour’s property. As long as the tree isn’t protected by a preservation order, you are able to cut back any overhanging branches of a neighbour’s tree back to the boundary point between the two properties.
It’s worth noting that under the Theft Act, you are legally entitled to return any branches you cut down from a tree on their land should they request it back.
Will you need to apply for planning permission to cut down your tree?
If you live in a conservation area or your trees/hedges are protected by a tree preservation order made by local planning authorities, you may need to obtain permission from your local council to carry out any of the following works:
- Cutting down
- Wilful damage or destruction
Your neighbour has cut down a tree without your permission:
Ideally, neighbourly disputes with regards to cutting down trees would be resolved out of court to avoid shelling out substantial legal costs and still maintain an amicable relationship with your neighbour. To do so, you may decide to arrange a meeting between yourselves or with a mediator to resolve the situation. During this meeting, you can highlight to your neighbour that the tree was on your land, and present a couple of costing estimates for them to agree to for replanting a new tree or hedge.
During this time, it’s worth creating a plan displaying the correct boundary line and agreed cost, and asking your neighbour to sign this agreement for future evidence.
You want to complain about your neighbour’s high hedge or tree:
Your neighbour is responsible for maintaining their trees and hedges so no damage is caused to your property and they don’t grow too high. According to government advice, if their tree is over 2 metres tall and is affecting the enjoyment of your home or garden, you are within your rights to log a complaint with your local council; it’s worth noting that you may have to pay the council a fee to look into your complaint.
Under the Rights of Light Act 1959, if your property has received daylight for the last 20 years, you are entitled to continue receiving that light. As such, if your neighbour’s tree is blocking the light on your property, you have the legal standing to request that the tree is pruned to restore daylight on your premises.
You are unsure of who is responsible for you maintenance and costs:
Whose responsibility is it to clear up leaves?
The owner of a tree is not obliged to clear up fallen leaves, so the responsibility doesn’t lie solely with one person. As such, you could tackle this task yourself or you could come to some sort of arrangement with your neighbour. The only exception would be if damage is caused as a result of fallen leaves, such as drainage issues; responsibility for this lies with the tree owner.
Who pays for the work if it encroaches on a neighbour’s property?
Where possible, it’s worth compromising or sharing the costs of the tree work in order to maintain a peaceful relationship with your neighbour. Having said that, some tree work can be covered by insurance so the policy in place can foot the bill.
What tree work is covered by insurance?
Before carrying out any tree work under the assumption that it will be covered by your home insurance policy, it’s important to make yourself familiar with the terms and conditions first. Always check what parts of your property are covered under your insurance (driveways are not necessarily an insured item).
Home insurance typically covers the following tree work:
Most home insurance policies offer subsidence cover as standard. Subsidence occurs when tree roots absorb water from clay soil, causing the earth to dry faster and the soil to shrink which, in turn, can cause the foundations to sink. This is particularly dangerous for trees planted close to the house as it can affect the structure of the property. The following trees are known for absorbing a great deal of water from the soil:
- Tree Roots
If you are experiencing issues with the tree roots, you are within your rights to remove any roots crossing over into your property. It’s recommended that this is discussed with your neighbour prior to any work being carried out. Work should be never be done to roots if it causes the tree to decline or become unstable, nor if the tree is protected by a TPO or in a Conservation Area. Tree root removal requires a fully trained arborist, meaning that it is the tree owner’s responsibility to cover the costs of the work. If your neighbour is the tree owner, it is down to them to decide whether they would prefer to pay the cost outright or claim against their home insurance policy where possible.
- Broken branches and fallen trees
If your property has experienced damage from branches or trees which have fallen naturally due to old age or harsh weather conditions, this is typically covered as standard by your home insurance.
You might find that your insurer will foot the bill of removing any broken branches or fallen trees, but they will leave the stump or roots buried underground.
It’s worth noting that you’re not covered if you are carrying out pruning or felling work on the tree, unless an insurance provider has requested the work.
For quality tree services throughout Hertfordshire and the surrounding areas, look no further than Artemis Tree Services. Simply contact us today to discuss your requirements or arrange an assessment at your property.