The maintenance of trees is the responsibility of the trees’ owner. The council does not have the powers to ensure that tree owners carry out regular maintenance and cannot intervene in disputes about trees on private property. These are civil matters between the complainant and tree owner.
Damage to your property
If you think a tree is causing damage to your property, you should approach the tree’s owner in the first instance.
If discussions are not productive, you may consider putting your concerns in a letter before contacting your insurer or seeking legal counsel. The Citizens Advice Bureau may also be able to help.
Whilst landowners have a duty of care to ensure that their trees do not present an unreasonable risk to neighbours, they do not have an obligation to prevent branches from growing beyond their boundaries, nor from preventing debris-fall onto their neighbour’s land.
Therefore, you have a common law right to prune overhanging branches back to the boundary, subject to securing the relevant permission from the council if the tree is protected. You do not need permission from the tree’s owner, though you are advised to discuss your intentions with the tree owner beforehand to avoid any misunderstanding. The tree’s owner is not obliged to share the costs of the works.
Anything you remove belongs to the tree’s owner, and you should either agree to return the cuttings to them or offer to dispose of the cuttings on their behalf. You must not trespass onto the land on which the tree is growing or cut back branches beyond the boundary without permission of the landowner.
If you are pruning overhanging branches, you should carry out all works in accordance with good arboricultural practice, as excessive pruning may cause the tree to become unstable or die.
As with overhanging branches, neighbours have a common law right to prune encroaching roots back to their boundary.
However, particular care must be taken as the severance of structural roots could lead to catastrophic failure, and excessive root loss could lead to the death of the tree.
If you are considering pruning tree roots on your land, you are strongly advised you to get the opinion of a suitably qualified professional first.
Shading and rights to light
There is no automatic ‘right to light’.
A ‘right to light’ easement may be established if light entering a building has been uninterrupted for at least 20 years, but this refers only to buildings, not gardens, and you would need to seek legal counsel to establish this easement.
If the trees shading a house or garden are comprised of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees, they may constitute a ‘high hedge’.
The government has produced guidance on how to resolve neighbour disputes over high hedges and other boundary trees.
If you have followed the above advice from government and been unable to resolve the situation, you may as a last resort make a complaint to the council by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council investigates high hedge complaints under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. In some cases, Remedial Notices can be issued requiring a hedge to be reduced in height and managed at this height in perpetuity.
There is a fee of £450 for the issuance of a Remedial Notice.