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Your Rights on Trees & Overhanging Branches

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 25 Apr 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
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 SIGNIFICANT damage to your gutters (not just blocking them) 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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I believe after reading your information, that I own a large self-set Sycamore tree which has its roots planted in my ground. The problem is that the whole of this tree is growing through an old stone wall (which I believe I also own) which is high above my neighbours adjoining land (we live on a hillside). The sapling tree must have diverted sideways through the wall when it was small and then grown upright towards the light. My neighbour has now started to disturb the wall below the tree as well as any roots on his land in an effort to make the tree unstable and risk falling on my property. My question is... are you sure the tree is mine despite the fact that the whole of the trunk is over his land but not actually on it? If so I am more than happy to make moves to have it removed. We have a neighbour dispute so I am not able to discuss this with him. If I took the tree out regardless what would be the repercussions if he could prove that the tree was his? I really would appreciate your advice as I am worried about life and limb at my property is the tree should fall.
Billy1950 - 25-Apr-16 @ 6:01 PM
I believe after reading your information, that I own a large self-set Sycamore tree which has its roots planted in my ground. The problem is that the whole of this tree is growing through an old stone wall (which I believe I also own) which is high above my neighbours adjoining land (we live on a hillside). The sapling tree must have diverted sideways through the wall when it was small and then grown upright towards the light. My neighbour has now started to disturb the wall below the tree as well as any roots on his land in an effort to make the tree unstable and risk falling on my property. My question is... are you sure the tree is mine despite the fact that the whole of the trunk is over his land but not actually on it? If so I am more than happy to make moves to have it removed. We have a neighbour dispute so I am not able to discuss this with him. If I took the tree out regardless what would be the repercussions if he could prove that the tree was his? I really would appreciate your advice as I am worried about life and limb at my property is the tree should fall.
Billy1950 - 25-Apr-16 @ 2:47 PM
addenda - I can assert Birch leaves are so small they simply invade every nook and cranny and removing them to a tolerable level without spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy is a virtual impossibility: swamping flower beds and shrubs in a mantle of debris comparable to snowfall. Like many of the contributors I am not a young person and intensive gardening is something I can no longer manage: working below waist height is challenging in the extreme and fatigue can quickly bring my efforts to a close long before I can make any real impression on the extensive leaf fall, which increases in volume, each year, as the trees grow taller. Until local authorities realize that freedom to grow freely "whatever" (pestilent varieties excepted) in our tiny gardens, without need to refer to the local authority, disputes over boundary trees and hedges, in this very crowded society, will continue to be reported in the media. Common sense seems to have 'gone out the window': developers are steadily building on smaller and smaller plots; unfortunately the plants - especially trees - can't tell the difference and for some people the invasion of the Triffids could be a better option; at least they might just eat the people who were inconsiderate enough to plant them in the first place!
Nearlyman - 15-Apr-16 @ 8:23 PM
Clearly the Trees and High Hedges Act must have its roots (pardon the pun) in early history. Equally clearly, therefore, it stands to reason that [historically] most landowners were likely to have been of wealthy stock and laws/statutes formulated more to protect their rights than those of their tenants or today's, far less "wealthy", landowners; most of whom are, no doubt, presently struggling to pay off substantial mortgages. From what I understand about this Act - bearing in mind that today's landowners are most probably sitting on less than one tenth of an acre of land (if they are lucky) at 12 houses to the acre (including roadways and footpaths) - owners can pretty much 'do as they please' without fear or favour as far as planting what they like, where they like is concerned: I have heard of no monitoring or policing ofany landowner's activities under 'the Act' so, on the evidence, what I say is more than probably true; they can and do plant'how they please' and are not at all legally obliged to give any consideration for their unfortunate neighbours' quality of lifeor right to enjoy their property, what-so-ever. I grant exceptions exist; not least Japanese Knotweed, which is now officially declared a pest species and is notifiable to the authorities if found on one's land. On the other hand should a neighbour be unfortunate enough to be impacted by a next door neighbour's'gung ho' attitude to planting large trees and shrubs dropping leaves and sometimes branches, as well as casting deep shade - sufficient to promote, impossible to remove moss growth - he or she has limited recourse to "justice" as the weight of "right" is heavily biased in favour of the 'offending' landowner/perpetrator. Indeed, if a disgruntled neighbour (not unreasonably) seeks to ameliorate the situation he/she will definitely find themselves in a long and expensive battle(which they might not even win) to secure some relief from the blight the leaves, branches or shade, or indeed, all three is/are causing. The solution is, to put it into the vernacular, "a no brainer". By the same token that one must apply for planning consent to erect a man-made structure on his/her property - taking into account, ironically, the effect it might have on the nearest neighbours' quality of life/enjoyment of their property - it could reasonably be argued that in today's style of home ownership and the attendant reduction - for the greater majority - in the amount of land that typically comes with an affordable property (for the masses) - some measure of regulation has to be put in place: trees do not grow smaller; individual "estates" do! Consequently we see today numerous examples of over zealous/ambitious home owners on ridiculously small plots - many with no idea how big the lovely tree they have just planted might grow - planting trees 'willy nilly' with no thought to the consequences; not only to their own properties, but even less to that of their
Nearlyman - 15-Apr-16 @ 8:11 PM
We are in the process of selling a bungalow that has been in the family 67 years. it belonged to my late Mother and for the last 7 years we have had tenants in it. At the rear of the property are flats which overlook the garden. everything was OK as there was a huge tree giving us privacy it is half ours and half next doors. Toour utter shock when our tenant moved out we found that the tree had been stripped of all the branches and we are now on open view to anyone in those flats.And of course the property wont sell.Now to have done this they must have come onto our property, and presume that they would need our permission to do this?.
Mav - 15-Apr-16 @ 12:52 PM
Adam - Your Question:
My Neighbour to the rear has 2 protected trees over hanging my garden but at a great height. The clean up amounts to 4 or 5 full days a year. The debris of falling branches has broken the corrugated plastic roofing of a Dilapidated brick/iron/Asbestos built shed. I have bought new plastic roofing to replace the plastic sheets but do not want to put them up until the dead hanging branches have fallen off, as it is possible they will be broken straight away. I would like to ask the Neighbour to get the Tree seen to but am not sure what/if they are required by law to do about it.Also the fallen debris over years has landed on the Asbestos roof and formed a soil for weeds to grow on top of. Removing it will be costly

Our Response:
Are the branches actually dead? It's probably worth consulting with your neighbour and then getting the TPO officer out to take a look and advise what the options are. In general you can remove any branches that are overhanging your property. The neighbour should decide what course of action he/she deems appropriate if the tree is pronounced dangerous.
ProblemNeighbours - 15-Apr-16 @ 12:34 PM
My Neighbour to the rear has 2 protected trees over hanging my garden but at a great height. The clean up amounts to 4 or 5 full days a year. The debris of falling branches has broken the corrugated plastic roofing of a Dilapidatedbrick/iron/Asbestos built shed. I have bought new plastic roofing to replace the plastic sheets but do not want to put them up until the dead hanging branches have fallen off, as it is possible they will be broken straight away. I would like to ask the Neighbour to get the Tree seen to but am not sure what/if they are required by law to do about it. Also the fallen debris over years has landed on the Asbestos roof and formed a soil for weeds to grow on top of. Removing it will be costly
Adam - 14-Apr-16 @ 1:10 PM
The school at the back of our garden has recently replaced the fencing and in so doing, the contractors have cut off the base of five two inch thick rose stems at a height of 3ft and dug out the roots. The rose was very old and has entwined itself through our buckthorn tree. I now have twenty feet of dead rose running through my buckthorn. They have also pruned the buckthorn so heavily that the branches in my garden are now pulling the tree towards my house. Both the rose and buckthorn are in my property but only the buckthorn was growing over the fence line but they have pruned it well beyond the property line. I have spoken to the contractor and he said they had to remove the roots as they were in the way of them being able to fit the fence and then walked off with out any attempt to discuss the matter of the remaining dead rose. I've emailed the school four times and phoned them but there is no response to email and they don't answer the phone. What, if any recourse do I have to this?
cc - 12-Apr-16 @ 1:32 PM
My neighbour has a very large conifer which now "shares" our garden and his. He has had his side trimmed but has left the side facing us uncut. The branches are massive, far too high and thick for us to deal with, and grow very quickly. Do we have to pay to have his tree pruned even though it belongs to him but affects us?!
Leylandi - 11-Apr-16 @ 2:55 PM
HI A NEIGHBOUR HAS A TREE THAT OVERHANGS OUR DRIVE ,I END UP WITH WITH LEAVES TO CLEAR IN THE AUTUMN TO A LARGE SCALE BUT THATS FINEMY ISSUE IS OVER HANGING WHERE I HAVE TO PARK ,THE BIRDS CONSTANTLY COVER MY VAN WITH THEIR WASTE WHICH HAS STAINED THE PAINTWORK ON MY VAN ,THE TREE IS OLD AND DROPPING BRANCHES FROM TIME TO TIME BUT I LOVE THE BIG OLD TREE BUT HAVE I ANY COME BACK ON THIS PERSON AS THEY PROVIDE A PLACE FOR THE DAMAGE TO BE DONE TO MY VEHICLE AND ITS NOT FAIR THAT I SHOULD HAVE TO PAY TO GET MY VAN BACK TO A STATE THAT IS NOT AN EMBARRASSMENT TO BE SEEN IN
STEVE - 9-Apr-16 @ 10:21 PM
Daisy - Your Question:
My neighbour planted a Xmas Tree in their garden over 40 years ago. It is approximately 2 storeys high now and overhangs the neighbours fencing on both sides. The tree now blocks the evening sun from our patio.The neighbours have no interest in their garden and only go outside to hang washing on the line. The cost of cutting the tree down is likely to be a reason for them NOT to do so, are their any regulations to support my request???

Our Response:
Because it's been there so long and you don't actually have a real right to light in your garden, especially if it's only the evening sun, there may not be much you can do. The High hedges legislation deals with two or more evergreen trees so that may not be any good for you either. You can cut back any branches that are overhanging your boundary but cannot remove any of the tree's height. Discussion with your neighbours and maybe mediation or dispute resolution might be your only other options.
ProblemNeighbours - 6-Apr-16 @ 2:23 PM
Dav39 - Your Question:
We have a neighbours whose garden backs on to ours and they have a tree at the end which overhangs our fence which we trim and dispose of branches occasionally but yesterday they decided to cut thentree down and have chucked the majority into our garden which is totally unacceptable as it is not our tree, can we legally put them back over into their garden?

Our Response:
It would be wiser to ask them to come round and remove the cuttings than to simply throw them back over.
ProblemNeighbours - 6-Apr-16 @ 12:50 PM
CER45 - Your Question:
My neighbour is constantly throwing leaves that have shed not only from my tree but other trees that are not mine into my garden. Now that his fence - boundary fence has blown down he entered my garden and hacked a large branch of my tree that was not overhanging his garden and threw the branches on to my garden. I am really shocked at this behaviour. I recently had to ask him to sort out the guttering and downpipe on his shed which he had designed so that the downpipe extended sideways over the fence and was pouring into my garden. Previously a few years ago when I was away he removed the fence, entered my property and cut down a large fir tree that was again not overhanging his garden. I am an OAP and I am at my wits end with this.

Our Response:
He should not return leaves that have fallen onto his side of the boundary. He may "offer" any branches back that he has trimmed. Accessing your property without your permission is trespass and damaging your tree/property could amount to criminal damage. It might be wise to alert him to these facts if you can before reporting anything to the police.
ProblemNeighbours - 5-Apr-16 @ 2:53 PM
My neighbour planted a Xmas Tree in their garden over 40 years ago. It is approximately 2 storeys high now and overhangs the neighbours fencing on both sides. The tree now blocks the evening sun from our patio. The neighbours have no interest in their garden and only go outside to hang washing on the line. The cost of cutting the tree down is likely to be a reason for them NOT to do so, are their any regulations to support my request???
Daisy - 4-Apr-16 @ 12:39 PM
We have a neighbours whose garden backs on to ours and they have a tree at the end which overhangs our fence which we trim and dispose of branches occasionally but yesterday they decided to cut thentree down and have chucked the majority into our garden which is totally unacceptable as it is not our tree, can we legally put them back over into their garden?
Dav39 - 4-Apr-16 @ 11:47 AM
My neighbour is constantly throwing leaves that have shed not only from my tree but other trees that are not mine into my garden. Now that his fence - boundary fence has blown down he entered my garden and hacked a large branch of my tree that was not overhanging his garden and threw the branches on to my garden. I am really shocked at this behaviour. I recently had to ask him to sort out the guttering and downpipe on his shed which he had designed so that the downpipe extended sideways over the fence and was pouring into my garden. Previously a few years ago when I was away he removed the fence, entered my property and cut down a large fir tree that was again not overhanging his garden. I am an OAP and I am at my wits end with this.
CER45 - 3-Apr-16 @ 10:12 AM
Bobby - Your Question:
Our neighbour has extended the back of his house,leaving very little space for sitting in the sun. We have a connefer tree in the back of the garden, several feet away from the fence which he wants us to cut down, as it interferes which his sunlight. This is partly true however would he not have thought about this when he extended his property on the back. To get a more impression of the person we dealing with, we had the inconvenience of him having chicken against our back fence, we never complained. However we getting a bit older and are worried about our rights without getting rights.

Our Response:
You cannot be made to remove just one tree on this basis, especially as the neighbour has built his extension with prior knowledge of the tree's existence.
ProblemNeighbours - 31-Mar-16 @ 2:02 PM
Could you please advice on the problem facing Bobby, before escalating the above. With thanks.
Bobby - 29-Mar-16 @ 2:29 PM
Our neighbour has extended the back of his house,leaving very little space for sitting in the sun. We have a connefer tree in the back of the garden, several feet away from the fence which he wants us to cut down, as itinterferes which his sunlight. This is partly true however would he not have thought about this when he extended his property on the back. To get a more impression of the person we dealing with, we had the inconvenience of him having chicken against our back fence, we never complained. However we getting a bit older and are worried about our rights without getting rights.
Bobby - 29-Mar-16 @ 2:19 PM
Our immediate neighbour came onto our property whilst we were away and cut the top out of an old holly tree. When asked for an explanation as to why he had done this he gave several different replies i.e.1. It had suffered wind damage, 2. he had only cut off a few vertical shoots, 3. he'd always trimmed the holly when he had cut the boundary hedge, 4. he wanted to let more light into his garden.The boundary hedge is alternately cut by him and ourselves.(The holly was several feet away from the hedge). He was very aggressive and started complaining about another tree in our garden which is several yards from his house, saying it blocked sunlight getting to his lawn. He offered no apology for cutting the holly tree but said that being as I had questioned him about it he was going to seek legal advice about the other tree which has been there for over 40 years Ambam
Ambam - 17-Mar-16 @ 9:17 PM
The neighbours at the end of our garden have a page conifer which has become very tall and overhangs. I wrote to say I had a tree surgeon visiting and could they call me as I would like the height reduced and it is blocking light at end of garden in the afternoon. They wrote back saying I have no right to light and it doesn't bother them so they won't do anything. I have cut overhanging branches but what can I do about height- only want a few feet but so it is not so imposing and so it allows some sun light at end of garden?
Ash - 13-Mar-16 @ 6:30 AM
Purpleflower- Your Question:
My neighbour recently had tree surgeon in and several of the cut branches landed in my garden. I have no way of disposing of them, can I put them over the fence back into their garden, it is very obvious they are from a tree in their garden

Our Response:
Yes you can ask your neighbour to take them back in this instant. It's not the same as if you had cut them back yourself in which case you would simply have had to "offer" them back to the owner (who could refuse).
ProblemNeighbours - 7-Mar-16 @ 2:10 PM
My neighbour recently had tree surgeon in and several of the cut branches landed in my garden. I have no way of disposing of them, can i put them over the fence back into their garden, it is very obvious they are from a tree in their garden
Purpleflower - 4-Mar-16 @ 12:49 PM
Tim- Your Question:
About 30 years ago the council planted trees to the rear and side of our property. These trees are now to a size that over shadow our whole house and garden, blocking all of the light we used to get. I know that there is no such thing as a right to light, but as the trees were put in after our house was built do we have any case to have the trees trimmed? Thanks, Tim

Our Response:
You can cut back any branches that overhang your property. You can also request that some height is removed from the trees on the basis that your property was there first, but we are not sure that there is any obligation on the part of the neighbour to comply. If the trees are evergreen, you may have some succes with the High Hedges legislation
ProblemNeighbours - 3-Mar-16 @ 12:35 PM
We have a eucalyptus tree at the bottom of our garden. It is a long way from any buildings but as it has matured the trunk has begun to encroach upon the neighbour's garden and has damaged their fence. They would like us to remove the tree which is a shame as it is a beautiful tree and at present that would be too costly for us to do. We have offered to pay to have the fence adapted to accommodate the tree but they have just written to us telling us they don't want to discuss it and that they want us to remove the tree and to repair the fence. Could you tell me where we stand with this please. Thank you.
Karin - 29-Feb-16 @ 9:57 PM
Right at the rear of my neighbours garden, (A significant way from the back of their house) Is a large Oak tree. Which over hangs my garden.For the last two Autumn's/Winters the tree has has shed its considrable amount of leaves prodominently on to my garden, along with large twigs and even branches in high wind. After the fifth leaf clear up this season at 10 bin bags of leaves a time I gave up, its recked my lawn, clogged my gutters and looks a state. What is my position on trying to get this tree felled, or at least pruned back?
JRichardson - 29-Feb-16 @ 4:17 PM
About 30 years ago the council planted trees to the rear and side of our property.These trees are now to a size that over shadow our whole house and garden, blocking all of the light we used to get. I know that there is no such thing as a right to light, but as the trees were put in after our house was built do we have any case to have the trees trimmed? Thanks, Tim
Tim - 29-Feb-16 @ 2:24 PM
Fox - Your Question:
Hi. A neighbours tree hangs over my driveway. The bird poo over my drive and car is ridiculous. I counted 14 bird droppings in an hour period other day after having car valeted. The cost of getting cleaned once/twice a week runs into hundreds of pounds each year and is damaging the paintwork on my car. I'm told the tree is protected. What can I do?

Our Response:
You are entitled to cut back the tree branches to the bounday but if the tree is subject to a tree preservation order, then you should speak to your council's Tree Preservation Officer for advice before proceeding.
ProblemNeighbours - 29-Feb-16 @ 12:37 PM
Hi.. A neighbours tree hangs over my driveway.. The bird poo over my drive and car is ridiculous.. I counted 14 bird droppings in an hour period other day after having car valeted.. The cost of getting cleaned once/twice a week runs into hundreds of pounds each year and is damaging the paintwork on my car. I'm told the tree is protected.. What can I do?
Fox - 26-Feb-16 @ 3:32 PM
Primrose - Your Question:
We purchased a Victorian house which was previously operating as a solicitors firm but has recently been converted back to residential family dwelling. The problem we have is that the garden has three mature lime trees with TPO. We would like to have full use of the gardenfor children to play, grow plants, fruit trees, shrubs etc but have now discovered that this will be an impossoble dream because of the trees roots right across the garden and also taking all the nutrition from the soil. The neighbours have added to the doom and gloom by telling us that in the summer months most of the neighbouring gardens lie under a canopy of darkness from the leaves and sap which coates garden furniture etc. We are aware from speaking to tree surgeons the council would have to be consulted before anything can be done. My question is does the council consider the point of view of the residents quality of life - ie having the full use of their garden or does the "green issue" take pesedence ie we need to protect trees for environmental reasons. We too love nature but in this case the law seems to be on the side of the trees. We appreciate your comments.

Our Response:
The easiest thing to do is to make an appointment to speak with a the Tree Preservation Officer of your local council. Sometimes, they will allow pruning activities or even removal.
ProblemNeighbours - 24-Feb-16 @ 1:47 PM
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