A quick and practical guide to what you can and cannot do to a neighbour's tree.
As you can imagine some of the most common questions we get asked as tree surgeons are: Can I cut my neighbour's tree? Can I cut overhanging branches? Or my neighbour's tree is blocking the sunlight out of my garden, what can I do?
Since we do get asked these types of questions fairly frequently, we have listed our answers to the questions we get asked the most. This is a practical and basic guide so for more complex or legal issues please contact the local council, solicitor or view the government guidance website.
Of course in the first instance in any of these situations, it is always best to speak to your neighbour first to arrange a way forward that suits you both and takes into the consideration the health of the tree. You might be surprised at how amicable your neighbour can be!
Yes. Under common law, you are allowed to prune back branches that overhang into your garden. This should be allowed with or without the owner's consent. However, bear in mind these points:
The tree belongs to the neighbour so you cannot enter their garden and start pruning. However, you may prune the branches that overhang the boundary but it comes with the same rights and liabilities as mentioned above.
No, this could be considered 'fly-tipping'. The branches legally belong to the neighbour so you should offer them back before disposing of them as it could be considered an Act of Theft not to. But it is more than likely that they will be happy for you to dispose of them.
No. The owner is not obliged to clear up fallen leaves unless it is blocking a gutter for example and damage then occurs from it. However, you would need to prove that it was the leaves from that particular tree that caused the damage.
Yes, if the tree does not carry a tree preservation order. Removing roots comes with the same rights and liabilities of overhanging branches. However this is a dangerous and unwise action, depending on the position and size of the tree root, removing them will most likely cause tree failure.
For example, consider a large tree, the roots that are close to the tree or over 2 inches in diameter (this will alter depending on the tree size) are most likely structural so removing these would cause severe damage. You may think well I do actually want to get rid of the tree but this would be welcoming lots of problems if you did not consult the tree owner first. Before removing roots, it is best to seek advice from a tree surgeon.
This is always the big question. In this situation, the absolute best option is to have an open and friendly chat with your neighbour about the tree in question.
The tree legally belongs to the neighbour so you cannot demand that it is removed as it is up to the homeowner, and there is no legal obligation for the homeowner to have the tree pruned or removed.
In theory, if a dispute occurs, you could use the Right to Light Act 1959. This acts states that a property has a right to light if it has had light for 20 years or more. This can work for items such as big fences as you could apply to the courts for a Restore Light Order as you most likely can pinpoint when the fence went up and when the light was lost. But it is not so easy with trees as they grow slowly so the dates might be inaccurate. Also if the tree has a tree preservation order then it will not come under this act.
Another option would be the High Hedges Act with the local council but it would need to fit into this criteria:
The local council will also want to see that you have at least attempted to resolve the issue before they will get involved. They offer a guide called 'Over the garden hedge' to help resolve issues, it is best to follow this guide and document your efforts before approaching the council. Find the guide here.
The safety of the tree is the homeowner's responsibility unless the house is rented for example and the tenancy agreement requires the tenants to look after the garden.
The safety of the tree would come under the Occupiers Liability Act, whereby the homeowner needs to take action to ensure the safety of trespassers or visitors.
If you are concerned that a tree could do damage to your property then in the first instance, write to or talk to your neighbour, you could ask for the tree to be inspected by a professional. If they ignore the request and as a last resort you could apply for a court injunction requiring the owner to deal with the tree. Another option if all communication has failed is to ask the local council to step in for you under the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1976. However, that is a limited provision.
If you have decided that you need help with a tree you may wonder at what to ask the tree surgeon to do, if so take a look at our tree surgery terminology guide here.
We hope this has been helpful, feel free to take a look at our other blog articles here for similar topics.
We are experienced tree surgeons and arborists based in Sheffield working across Sheffield, Chesterfield, Dronfield, and surrounding areas such as the Loxley, Bolsterstone, and the Peak District including Hathersage, Grindleford, Bakewell.
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