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Your Rights on Trees & Overhanging Branches

Author: Jeff Durham - Updated: 19 October 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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[Add a Comment]
@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
Hi, the house directly behind us is a Housing association property. At some point a previous tenant there and a previous vendor at the neighbouring property have stolen the alley way between our properties. The vendors on the other side of the HA property have now bought the 'neighbouring' property and here's where the problem starts. There is a tree where the alley way used to be that the people who have bought the the 'neighbouring' property are trying to have removed as they say it is blocking emergency access to their property. This will have a huge effect on our privacy and the value of our property. They are saying that it has to be removed legally as it's damaging their fence line. The alley way is shared ownership land and is clearly stated on our deeds. Any advice would be greatly appreciated and if there's any other info you need, please let me know.
Watty - 27-Sep-14 @ 9:06 PM
@chrisR. We don't know the full details but cannot see how you can be held responsible for trees that are not on your land and were not planted by you. Double check the boundary on your title deeds and if that is not conclusive you could also check with the land registry to be sure.
ProblemNeighbours - 18-Sep-14 @ 2:24 PM
@Kacky. Your neighbour can trim any branches that overhang his property and this will not give him ownership of the bush or the land that it is on. Maybe you should check your deeds or the land registry and obtain proof of the boundaries if you think this will become a problem in the future.
ProblemNeighbours - 18-Sep-14 @ 12:49 PM
I have a large prickly bush outside of my rear garden fence but on my land as I am on a corner plot. My neighbour in a small cul de sac at the back of my house wants to cut the top branches of the bush every year. He's always complaining that it's overhanging too much, that they can't drive past it, can't put their bins next to it etc. should I let him trim it or if I do will he have some right to ownership of this bush and land if he keeps maintaining it for any length of time. I don't mind him looking after it for me as long as he dosen't go too far.
Kacky - 17-Sep-14 @ 2:09 PM
Searched high and low for an answer and this discussion is the closest I have got to an answer. I recently bought a house and on the outside of my boundary is local authority land about 5m long x 1m wide.On this land are 4 conifer trees which apparently the previous owner of my house planted, but this is not written down anywhere. The authority are asking me to maintain these trees even though they are on their land.I am objecting to this as because the trees are on the authority land they own them and I have no right to interfere with them unless their branches overhang into my garden. Q1. Is there any law on this and if not is there a period of time when a tree planted wrongly on authority land becomes the property of the authority ? Q2. If they insisted on me maintaining them surely I could demand they provide footpath closure and insurance in case a branch falls on someone ?
Chris R - 17-Sep-14 @ 12:46 PM
@rose. As you will see from the article, you can cut back any branches that are overhanging your own garden. You should 'offer' them back to the neighbour but if they do not want them it is polite to dispose of them yourself. If you think they are actually causing damage to your property (and can prove this) then you should contact the neighbour officially and request they remove the tree.
ProblemNeighbours - 17-Sep-14 @ 12:25 PM
my neighbour's (tenants at the property) have a tall willow tree in their garden which overhangs mine.The leaves and branches cause damage to the lawn and roots from another large bush prevent me growing plants in one area of my garden.I telephone the landlord to ask if she had any plans to trim both and she said to contact the tenants themselves as they were responsible for the garden.I spoke to the wife and asked her if I could put the cut branches into her garden and she agreed. When the husband found out, he went ballistic and asked why I had done this.I told him they were his branches and that I had previously gotten permission from his wife to do so.The tree needs a serious cutting back. What would be your advice for next year as it will happen again.
rose - 15-Sep-14 @ 4:39 PM
My neighbor has cut down my front garden bushes and back garden bush and roses without asking and not just whats overhanging on there side but a lot i my garden? I'm so annoyed they didn't even ask? What can I do?
jo - 11-Sep-14 @ 1:30 PM
@jojo. You should check the terms of your tenancy agreement to see whether any garden work would be covered by the council (landlord). If a garden is for the sole use of the tenant then most councils will insist the responsibility for maintaining the garden lies with the tenant.
ProblemNeighbours - 10-Sep-14 @ 10:26 AM
Hi i live in Northampton. IM living in a two bedroom house owned by Northampton borough council. IM a single parent to a 17 year old son. Ive got Hugh conniver tree situated bottom of garden on both sides to each of my neighbours in in the middle house. Trees are bigger than my house ive asked council to help me.never getting anywherein tired of being ignored. My neighbours are in distress over the damagescaused by tree. My garden is wreaked, no sunlight at all .Cannot cope with this anymore. Pls help me. Ha
jojo - 9-Sep-14 @ 5:30 PM
My neighbour, in this case the local council, has some ash trees about 0.5m behind my fence.The trees are between 12-15m tall with several overhanging branches.As my small garden is on a slope, the trees are around 2-3m higher vs. our house which at its minimum 9m away from the closest tree.We have had some branches come down in the high winds last year, causing concern as to whether damage could occur to our house if we have further high winds.The trees are reasonably straight and healthy.I asked the council to come and have a look with my request to trim them down slightly.They refused given that they are "healthy and low risk".While I agree they are healthy, the risk is very subjective, especially as the council representative cited that the storms last year were rare.When I said I understand, but will hold them accountable for any potential damage, he started to look more worried and back-pedalled a bit, but still insisted not to take action other than get a second opinion from their contractor. My questions are: will I be able to claim for any damage given that I have raised the risk to them, or are winds and falling branches 'an act of God' if the tree is deemed healthy? I know that I can trim overhanging branches back, something that the council representative suggested; is this always at my cost with owner bearing no responsibility for their tree(s)? Thanks
JR - 9-Sep-14 @ 1:47 PM
@JR. The owner of the trees is only liable if they knowingly fail to act when they are AWARE of any problems with the trees. If they sought the opinion of their own expert and also that of independent contractor (ie. a tree surgeon etc) then they have taken sufficient steps to fulfil their responsibility.
ProblemNeighbours - 9-Sep-14 @ 12:41 PM
My neighbour, in this case the local council, has some ash trees about 0.5m behind my fence.The trees are between 12-15m tall with several overhanging branches.As my small garden is on a slope, the trees are around 2-3m higher vs. our house which at its minimum 9m away from the closest tree.We have had some branches come down in the high winds last year, causing concern as to whether damage could occur to our house if we have further high winds.The trees are reasonably straight and healthy.I asked the council to come and have a look with my request to trim them down slightly.They refused given that they are "healthy and low risk".While I agree they are healthy, the risk is very subjective, especially as the council representative cited that the storms last year were rare.When I said I understand, but will hold them accountable for any potential damage, he started to look more worried and back-pedalled a bit, but still insisted not to take action other than get a second opinion from their contractor. My questions are: will I be able to claim for any damage given that I have raised the risk to them, or are winds and falling branches 'an act of God' if the tree is deemed healthy? I know that I can trim overhanging branches back, something that the council representative suggested; is this always at my cost with owner bearing no responsibility for their tree(s)? Thanks
JR - 9-Sep-14 @ 11:45 AM
Hi. The people at the bottom of our garden have an enormous tree between their house and ours. Not sure of the exact height, but it's significantly taller than their house & much taller than the distance between the two houses.It blocks all the light to our garden & sucks all the nutrients out the soil meaning I can only grow things in one small corner of the garden & in pots.THe roots come up under our lawn, probably under the house too. I am constantly having to trim shoots out of the lawn, plus the grass won't grow properly due to the tree. The tree sheds leaves and branches into our garden, especially bad obviously in autumn.This is bad enough, but yesterday the owner had some work done to trim some of the lower branches from the tree. The consequence was that one branch landed in our garden & buckled the frame to our fruit cage.So now I have the prospect of £100 bill to replace the frame. Not to mention the hours it takes to mend it properly. I dont know the neighbour, never met them. Do i have any rights with regards to getting them to (a) pay for the damage they've caused and (b) have the tree taken down?
dragon_rider - 22-Aug-14 @ 11:33 AM
Hi. The people at the bottom of our garden have an enormous tree between their house and ours. Not sure of the exact height, but it's significantly taller than their house & much taller than the distance between the two houses.It blocks all the light to our garden & sucks all the nutrients out the soil meaning I can only grow things in one small corner of the garden & in pots.THe roots come up under our lawn, probably under the house too. I am constantly having to trim shoots out of the lawn, plus the grass won't grow properly due to the tree. The tree sheds leaves and branches into our garden, especially bad obviously in autumn.This is bad enough, but yesterday the owner had some work done to trim some of the lower branches from the tree. The consequence was that one branch landed in our garden & buckled the frame to our fruit cage.So now I have the prospect of £100 bill to replace the frame. Not to mention the hours it takes to mend it properly. I dont know the neighbour, never met them. Do i have any rights with regards to getting them to (a) pay for the damage they've caused and (b) have the tree taken down?
dragon_rider - 22-Aug-14 @ 11:27 AM
Hi. The people at the bottom of our garden have an enormous tree between their house and ours. Not sure of the exact height, but it's significantly taller than their house & much taller than the distance between the two houses.It blocks all the light to our garden & sucks all the nutrients out the soil meaning I can only grow things in one small corner of the garden & in pots.THe roots come up under our lawn, probably under the house too. I am constantly having to trim shoots out of the lawn, plus the grass won't grow properly due to the tree. The tree sheds leaves and branches into our garden, especially bad obviously in autumn.This is bad enough, but yesterday the owner had some work done to trim some of the lower branches from the tree. The consequence was that one branch landed in our garden & buckled the frame to our fruit cage.So now I have the prospect of £100 bill to replace the frame. Not to mention the hours it takes to mend it properly. I dont know the neighbour, never met them. Do i have any rights with regards to getting them to (a) pay for the damage they've caused and (b) have the tree taken down?
dragon_rider - 22-Aug-14 @ 11:22 AM
My neighbour doesn't want my trees to grow above my 6ft fence as he fears it will block sun from his garden. I've told him if they start to shade his garden I will willingly cut them back. The trees are now around 7ft he asked me if I wanted him to cut them back I said I didnt that I would do it when I felt it was necessary.A week later I went on holiday. I came back to find he had leant over the fence and cut them down to fence height. Ive told him hes not to do it again and that he is being totally unreasonable about it. Before we put the fence up there were trees there that were over 20ft high and they didn't shade his garden so I don't know what his problem is. Can he legally lean over the fence to cut them down and is he being unreasonable asking me to keep them below 6ft? Thanks
troutus - 20-Aug-14 @ 12:37 AM
Hi, I hope you can advise me. The upper branches of my neighbour's deciduous tree - located about half way down 60ft garden and now taller than our houses -completely overhang our garden and block out sunlight to the mid area throughout summer months. Whilst not sun worshippers - this has hindered our attempts at establishing a veg plot and constructing a decent lawn. We have twice pruned the lower branches with telescopic loppers but cannot reach the higher branches, which are also too thick and require professional attention. Since they moved in about two years agowe have spoken to our neighbours at least twice about arranging to have the tree pruned - we have even offered to split costs - but they do not appear concerned about our issues. With the latest storms I am also worried about the safety factor, nothing has been done to curb its height and its upper branches always seem to break and fall into our garden in windy conditions. I do not want to start a dispute, but before I approach them againI would like to know what my rights are with regards to getting the branches overhanging onto my property removed. Many thanks, JJ
JJ - 12-Aug-14 @ 11:44 AM
Hi, after having put up new fences as a result of the weather we had and my neighbours copious amount of ivy, she now tied string around my panels and has even put a screw into the fence to hold up plants. I have told her to remove it but she hasn't. What are the rules about this? Thanks.
llm1981 - 11-Aug-14 @ 10:19 PM
hi ,at the front of my property we have a single lane road with no footpath so is quite narrow .the rear of a neighbours garden backs onto this road , he has over growing hedges coming over a wall blocking sight down the road to which the highways dpt are aware and keep sending letters every year. he also hasapprox 12 conifers and a beech tree all over40ft tallwithin 2m of his boundary blocking our daylight and also surrounding an over head power cable which is clearly dangerous.he has an alley way to the side of his propertywhich is covered by his thorn bushes. for the last 12 yearsI have had to diplomaticly ask him to trim these to which he will eventually give them a slight tickle.ihave now had enough of this and want this resolved once and for all.the local council has offered no help at allbut says I should pay £400 to them then they will look into it !, I don t have £400 spare.the power company can cut his trees but could they bill him for this and force him to maintain these trees to a safe height .after many letters from the highways dpt could they also bill him for work they have had to carry out and force him legally to maintain his hedges saving me having to make my twice yearly visit to his property to have moan ! please help as im tempted to just chainsaw the lot ! thanks.
fedup - 10-Aug-14 @ 8:30 AM
We have a plum tree in our garden, 2 years ago our neighbour asked us to trim it as it was dropping fruit on his garage which we did straight away. Last week he trimmed the overhanging branches, which we were fine with as he's legally allowed to, but he chucked the branches back over the fence and bent our plants, today he came around very abusive and said that by law we have to have the tree completely removed. The tree has been in the garden for over 20 years and he's never complained before, I explained that we were going to get it trimmed again this autumn. I was wondering, do we legally have to remove the whole tree?
Cptree - 9-Aug-14 @ 10:18 AM
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