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Your Rights on Trees & Overhanging Branches

Author: Jeff Durham - Updated: 27 November 2014 | commentsComment
 
Rights On Trees Rights On Overhanging

Trees can add a great deal of splendour to a garden. They could be fruit bearing trees, a place in which to retreat to the shade and they can also add a great deal of colour to a garden. However, they can also cause a nuisance to a next door neighbour when they start encroaching onto your side of the fence, with problems ranging from attracting unwanted insects like bees and wasps, blocking out your light and shedding their leaves all over your garden. Therefore, it’s important to know what your rights are and what you can and cannot do.

Establishing Ownership of Trees

The tree belongs to the person upon whose land it has originally grown. Even if its branches or, worse still, its roots have begun to grow over or into a neighbour’s territory, it belongs to the landowner where the tree was originally planted. Even if the tree bears fruit or flowers on branches which overhang into your land, it’s an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to keep them or to take cuttings of flowers, for example.

Obviously, many neighbours will not tend to worry about that too much but should a neighbour, for example, see you collecting apples from their tree even though the branches have grown onto your side, they are legally entitled to ask you to return them.

Overhanging Branches

If the branches of a neighbour’s tree start to grow over to your side, you can cut them back to the boundary point between you and your neighbour’s property, as long as the tree is not under a tree preservation order. If it is, you’ll need to seek further clarification. However, the branches and any fruit on them which you may have cut down on your side still belong to the tree owner so they can ask you to return them.

It's a bit of an anomaly really, as while you are obliged to offer the branches back, if any leaves from your neighbour’s tree fall into your garden in autumn, you have no right to ask them to come around and sweep them up.

On the other hand, should the trees be causing siginificant damage to your gutters and or blocking your drains, you can ask your neighbour to pay to have them cleared or to pay for the cost of any damage they might have caused. If they refuse to do so, you can legally sue them and force them into paying. If you lop off any branches on your neighbour’s (the tree owner) side of the fence, you are not entitled to Gain Access To Their Property to cut off some more. This is trespassing and you could be prosecuted.

Tree Roots

You are entitled to dig up and remove any roots that have encroached upon your land. Roots can cause a lot of problems and if they’re deep and/or causing subsidence or any other form of damage to your side of the property, you might need to get a tree surgeon or some other kind of structural engineer to deal with the problem.

It’s always better to discuss this with your neighbour first but if an expert does have to be called in, it’s the tree owner’s responsibility to foot the bill. They can then choose to pay up front or by claiming it against their own home insurance policy.

Take Action

You may also be interested in our neighbour's trees action guide - written by a barrister

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Our property is overhung by a large branch of a tree that is on a grassy area to the side of the house (so I presume it belongs to the council?). Not only are we forever clearing the leaves from our garden, our gutters are getting blocked and the drain on the road by the tree is blocked now so when it rains our parking spaces flood... Is it the council's responsibility and what laws are involved so I can have an informed discussion with the council. Thanks
Dawn - 27-Nov-14 @ 9:48 PM
@Iggy. They don't have to chop down the overhanging branches. You can do so if you like though. Please see the above article for more information.
ProblemNeighbours - 27-Nov-14 @ 1:48 PM
My neighbour has 2 large trees that overhang my driveway. 1 is a Sycamore & in the winter my drive gets covered in leaves & large seeds/nuts that constantly drop on my cars. Birds also sit on the overhanging branches & mess on cars. If they refuse to chop down overhanging branches who do I contact to try & enforce it?
Iggy - 26-Nov-14 @ 11:10 PM
@ChrisB. It's an unusual situation. You are entitled to cut back the part that grows along your wall, but should you be compelled to do so at the orders of the council when it is not your bush? If is certain that it is your neighbour's bush...i.e it is rooted entirely in their property...then write to the council explaining that the bush does not belong to your property. They may be able to explain their reasons for requesting that you do it. In general trees that overhang a highway should be kept to a level where they are not causing an obstruction; the council will usually inform the "Owner" of the trees/vegetation to let them know that they must clear any obstructions.
ProblemNeighbours - 24-Nov-14 @ 10:39 AM
Our neighbours bush runs along our wall and has spilled into the alley behind our house.The Council has sent us an instruction to trim back or they will at cost. This is a lot of work and the bush solely eminates from our adjacent neighbours. Should I ask the council to contact them?
Chris B - 21-Nov-14 @ 7:34 AM
@julesisout. This sounds like quite an unusual situation. But there are lot of unknowns - which make it difficult to answer.Is your extension wall actually on the boundary? Does it consitute the boundary wall? Is there another boundary fence that you share responsibility for? Take a look at these two articles which hopefully will help you further Neighbour's Trees Action Guide
The Party Wall Act
ProblemNeighbours - 12-Nov-14 @ 11:18 AM
@Murdog. The only way you can establish whether there is likely to be any foundation damage is to getreport from a surveyor and possibly a tree surgeon who will know the extent to which that type of tree grows its roots.
ProblemNeighbours - 12-Nov-14 @ 10:57 AM
@GB. Yes she can trim anything that overhangs her side and is obliged to offer you the branches back. You are entitled to refuse/allow her to keep them ;-)
ProblemNeighbours - 11-Nov-14 @ 11:31 AM
There is a large bramble in my neighbours garden.My extension has minimal access (walll sides can only be viewed from my neighbours back yard) yesterday it was noted that the brambles have forced thelselves in through my brickwork,lifting the roof slightly leaving a 1 1/2 inch gap. Who is responsible for cost of repairs?Many thanks if anyone can please advise
Julesisout - 10-Nov-14 @ 11:42 PM
My neighbours tree is approx house high and 15metres wide. It is lifting my flag stones in my drive way and is close to the found of my house . Brushing the leaves everyday is bad enough but will the roots eventually damage my house? No talking to my neighbour as she is stubborn.
Murdog - 10-Nov-14 @ 11:07 PM
Our neighbour said she wanted to trim the hedge,which belongs to us, and askedus to dispose of the cuttings -- we refused. Are we entitled to refuse?
GB - 9-Nov-14 @ 8:57 PM
@Sparkymaz. Firstly the neighbour cannot ask you to cut the trees back because they are blocking light. The trees have to be blocking a large amount of natural daylight (as opposed to direct sunlight) etc. There is a chance your neighbour could pursue this under the High Hedges section of the Antisocial Behaviour Act but this involves a process which would involve mediation via a 3rd party before any order could be made. Also check your deeds to find out who is responsible for maintenance of the trees.
ProblemNeighbours - 6-Nov-14 @ 2:17 PM
Apologies. not sure why my comment has been duplicated. This was not done intentionally
sparkymaz - 5-Nov-14 @ 9:24 PM
I am the owner of my house which has 5 v tall conifers at the rear of the property which backs onto a neighbouring bungalow. We maintain the trees as much as possible employing a tree surgeon but this is not a yearly job due to cost. We have never had any issues with neighbours in the 15 years of owning the house and this includes at least 3 different owners of the bungalow backed on to us. We have just recently been approached by the newest owner of the bungalow asking questions as to whom owns the land the trees grow from and a number of other questions regarding the sale of the house when we bought it, which I was quite uncomfortable answering. We have been told the trees block light into her house. The same trees also grow the same in the house we are attached to but these trees are more overgrown as haven't been well maintained. Who is responsible for cuttit these trees and if the owner of the bungalow insists the trees are cut down by half the height will I be liable for the cost? Or is it my responsibility at all as we own the house but ground rent is payable. Therefore should it be the onus of the landowner who is paid ground rent to cover the maintain ve and cost of the trees? Thanks in advance for any help or advice that cam be given.
sparkymaz - 5-Nov-14 @ 9:22 PM
I am the owner of my house which has 5 v tall conifers at the rear of the property which backs onto a neighbouring bungalow. We maintain the trees as much as possible employing a tree surgeon but this is not a yearly job due to cost. We have never had any issues with neighbours in the 15 years of owning the house and this includes at least 3 different owners of the bungalow backed on to us. We have just recently been approached by the newest owner of the bungalow asking questions as to whom owns the land the trees grow from and a number of other questions regarding the sale of the house when we bought it, which I was quite uncomfortable answering. We have been told the trees block light into her house. The same trees also grow the same in the house we are attached to but these trees are more overgrown as haven't been well maintained. Who is responsible for cuttit these trees and if the owner of the bungalow insists the trees are cut down by half the height will I be liable for the cost? Or is it my responsibility at all as we own the house but ground rent is payable. Therefore should it be the onus of the landowner who is paid ground rent to cover the maintain ve and cost of the trees? Thanks in advance for any help or advice that cam be given.
sparkymaz - 5-Nov-14 @ 7:19 PM
@Oliver. A 30 or 40 ft overhang? Are you sure? That sounds rather a lot. The best thing would be to speak with your neighbour first. You do have a right to remove branches but only those that overhang your property (e.g from the boundary into your garden). The neighbour may wish to get a tree surgeon's opinion if you really think that it would become unstable by removing some branches.
ProblemNeighbours - 31-Oct-14 @ 2:20 PM
THE LARGE CONIFER AT THE BOTTOM OF MY GARDEN BELONGS TO MY NEIGHBOUR. THE BRANCHES OVERHANG ABOUT 30 TO 40 FEET. IF I CUT THESE BRANCHES OFF I FEAR THE TREE WILL BECOME UNSTABLE. WHO WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE IF THIS HAPPENED?
oLIVER - 30-Oct-14 @ 11:25 AM
@ACKA - There may be something that you can do to get the trees cut back or even cut down. The High Hedges part of the antisocial behaviour act is the legislation that covers this. Here is a useful guide that should help you.
ProblemNeighbours - 28-Oct-14 @ 9:54 AM
@suttyp - it's not really something that is easy to act on, but if you feel strongly that the neighbour's tree is the direct cause of your fence problems, then you may be able to claim some compensation for the damage from your neighbour. You will need to get an independent report on the tree and the damage - a tree surgeon/aboricultural adviser will be able to do this for you. If the report proves that your suspicions are correct then you should contact your building insurance company to see whether garden structures are covered.they may negotiate with your neighbour on your behalf. If your insurance does not cover this, then write to your neighbour including a copy of the report and request a contribution towards the fence repair (together with a committment to trimming back the tree).
ProblemNeighbours - 27-Oct-14 @ 11:13 AM
I am 73 rs old my hubby is75.iam issabled and have health issues along with a heart complaint.My hubby suffered a stroke that lost him most of his sight.We have had 4yrs of hell from our neighboursincluding theft and criminal damage to our property,so we cant approach him or his family as they would give us hell again.they have planted a row of leylandisright up to the boundary fence and they are now 12ft high blocking our light.We have to pay to have our gardendone.and to trim his trees it would cost around£45.00.this seems so unfairhe is fit and healthy as is his son who lives with them.Can we get help with the cost of this work from our council.MANY THANKS.
ACKA - 25-Oct-14 @ 12:24 PM
Hello i have a conifer in next doors garden that has broken my fence due to its size, i have asked them to trim it down on 5 occasions now, which he refuses, the conifer has now grown that big its blocking out light to my garden, it killed all my grass an plants so i put decking down, this is going green and the roots have started lifting it, so i asked again for him to do something about it, he has, he planted another one next to it which is flying up even faster and putting me in the dark what can i do we aredisabled, i got injured in the forces on active duty so the likes of him can slob around and do this! doesnt seem fair
suttyp - 24-Oct-14 @ 11:11 AM
@I do not have one. Damage from tree roots was referenced in a law lords ruling (2001 against Westminster Council) and the Occupier's liability Act 1957/1984 together with theLocal Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 can also be referenced with regard to damage from trees.
ProblemNeighbours - 21-Oct-14 @ 12:03 PM
Under the title "Tree Roots" on your website, you quote: "Its always better to discuss this with your neighbour first, but if an expert does have to be called in, its the owner's responsibility to foot the bill.They can then choose to pay up front or by claiming against their own home insurance poloicy". Can you tell me where this is legally written down, as we are having problems with our neighbour, who refuses to talk to us about the roots of his Lylandaii Trees damaging our wall? Regards Norman Roberson
I do not have one - 19-Oct-14 @ 11:41 AM
@Cleocat. You say you have spent thousands on solicitors but the problem is still there? If restrictive covenants are in place, these should be enforceable in a court of law; an injunction can be issued to ensure the neighbour complies with the terms of the covenant. Your solicitor should really have been able to help you resolve this. You do have a right to access your neighbour's property in order to carry out essential repair/maintenance on your property (in common law as well as in the terms of your covenant) but this does require the cooperation of your neighbour and again, if they are reluctatant, then the courts are really your only recourse. In terms of simply going ahead and trimming back the foliage yourself...you are perfectly entitled to trim back any of the branches on your side of the boundary, but if this involves entering your neighbour's property it could constitute trespass. Equally...cutting back the branches on your neighbour's side could be regarded as criminal damage. However, bearing in mind what has happened and the behaviour of your neighbour, the courts may be sympathetic if it ever got that far.
ProblemNeighbours - 10-Oct-14 @ 10:24 AM
We are desperate and at the end of our tetherMy cottage kitchen , lounge and bedroom window directly overlooks the extensive garden of the house next door , where the owner is a bully and in making our lives a misery .There is no space between our wall and their garden . There are Restrictive Covenants attached to both properties- 1 Not to do anything by way of planting trees or shrubs or allowing the same to grow ...so as not to darken or interfere with access to light to the cottage . 2 Not to be do on the house or any part thereof any act or thing which shall be a nuisance or annoyance to the owners of the cottage We also have a right of access on to such parts of the house as are reasonably necessary for the purpose of maintaining and decorating the wall of the cottage , making good any damage caused . Despite this my neighbour has planted and is allowing to grow a bank of fast growingconifers directly in front of my Kitchen window , they are now a third up the window . We have repeatedly asked our neighbour to trim the trees and brambles , bushes. Have now spent thousands on solicitors to help , with little success . Our funds are exhausted . Ourbedroom window has not been cleaned for the last 4 years because of the unrestricted growth , for the last year none of the windows could be accessed for cleaning . No one seems able to helpus . Can we just cut down the foliage ? What would the penalty be ? I do hope you can give me some advice . Many thanks .
Cleo cat - 10-Oct-14 @ 9:36 AM
@weav. We don't know the full facts but unless these trees are causing damage or are dangerous (and this should be ascertained by an independent tree surgeon), then you should not have to take them down. There is some legislation relating to high hedges (part of the antisocial behaviour act and brought in mainly due to the increasing problems with Leylandii) but this should not really apply to a row of five poplars that have been there for some time. Even if it does apply, there is a whole mediation and/or court process to go through before you can be told to cut them down. Check that the council has its information correct (they are not infallible) and try not to worry about it for now.
ProblemNeighbours - 8-Oct-14 @ 2:43 PM
I have 5 poplar trees around 70 ft high at the bottom of my council property garden . I moved into the bungalowabout 18 months ago , & my neighbour asked me about asking the council to cut them down by half , as they might blow over , & damage his conservatory , & both our bungalows . these trees have been there for many years , are healthy , & I don't want to cut them down , as they block off a public trail where the old colliery railway line used to run , & they are habitat for birds , & other wildlife . My neighbour has complained to the council , & they have been round & told me they have to be cut down at my expense , as my tenancy agreement says I'm responsible for "pruning , & maintaining any trees on my property ! I am disabled , & am not Qualified to cut down these trees , I don't want the trees lopping down , & they don't overhang the garden next door . The trees have been growing there for a good 50 years , & I have only lived in the property , about 18 months , so how come all of a sudden have I got to foot the bill for something I didn't plant , & DO NOT WANT TOUCHING . Is there any common sense left in this country anymore ?
Weav - 6-Oct-14 @ 4:16 PM
@frustrated. No you are obliged to offer them back, but the neighbour does not have to accept them. As we mention below, we think this stems from the days when it would be polite to offer your neighbour his branches back for his fire/stove. If you simply throw them back, you could be accused of fly tipping.
ProblemNeighbours - 1-Oct-14 @ 12:48 PM
@watty. Get in touch with the housing association and/or council to get the right of way reinstated.
ProblemNeighbours - 30-Sep-14 @ 10:42 AM
our neighbour has refused to take back the branches which are overhanging on our property. Can we just let them drop on their side of the fence?
frustrated - 30-Sep-14 @ 9:06 AM
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