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Avoiding hedge wars

Apr 6, 2018

As budding gardeners head out into their garden at this time of year, Helen Porter, Property Dispute Solicitor, is often asked how far can you cut back your neighbour’s overhanging tree or the hedge running along the boundary?

Neighbour's trees and boundaries

The owner of the land over which his neighbour’s tress is overhanging, has the right to trim hedges and lop the branches of trees belonging to his neighbour to the boundary line.  However, as the clippings, lopped branches and any fruit of the tree remain the property of the owner of the tree, they must be offered back.  It is also important to first ensure that the tree is not protected by a Tree Preservation Order.

The Theft Act 1968 makes it a criminal offence to take wild flowers, fruit and foliage from any plant if it is sold for commercial gain.  Similarly, you cannot go onto your neighbour’s land, or lean over the boundary fence, without permission.  Although you do have a right to maintain your property, if access to the neighbouring land is denied, you can apply to the Court under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992.

Boundaries and the law

In some cases, the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003 might assist.  Problem hedges (such as Leylandii and Lawson Cypress) have been a high profile issue.  In extreme cases, violent disputes have escalated leading to murder and suicide.  The 2003 Act introduced new powers for local authorities to act in certain disputes which have often been exercised.  Where the height of a hedge is unreasonable, the local authority will serve a notice requiring the hedge to be cut down.  If the works are not carried out, the owner may be liable to a fine of up to £1,000.

Not all hedges are caught under the 2003 Act.  As a general rule, trees cannot legally interfere with a right of light over, or access to, a neighbour’s garden.  The 2003 Act covers evergreen or semi-evergreen hedges or shrubs over two metres high which must be a continuous hedge made up of a line of at least two or more trees or shrubs.  The Act does not apply to farmland.

Tree roots and boundary disputes

Problems also arise where tree roots have escaped onto a neighbour’s land, causing damage to property or even worse, subsidence to the building.  It is essential first to contact the owner of the tree and make them aware of the problem and the damage being caused.  If they fail to do anything about it, then it may be possible to instruct a tree surgeon and cut the offending branches or tree roots back to the boundary line.  Care, however, must be taken not to damage or kill the tree.

Helen Porter concludes, “Unfortunately, I have seen too many cases where a hedge or a wall has been removed to find that the boundary is in fact not where they thought it should be.  If uncertain, and the deeds to the property do not assist, you may wish to consider drawing up a boundary agreement with your neighbour to avoid costly legal proceedings in the future.”  

For more advice on how to address an overhanging tree on your property, you can contact Helen Porter on 02380 717425 or email helenporter@warnergoodman.co.uk. 

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.