AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Trees and plants

Contents

The control of plants and trees is important to prevent damage to the foundations of a building. In addition, excessive growth can also block light.

England & Wales

Tree root damage

If a person who owns land has a tree or other plant growing on it and the roots cause damage to their neighbours' home, they may be liable to pay the cost of repairing the damage. The liability will depend on whether or not the damage was reasonably foreseeable. If there is only a vague possibility that a tree might cause damage, then there will be no liability. However, once informed of any damage caused by tree roots, the person owning the land which the trees are on must take steps to prevent further damage.

As soon as the damage is noticed, the neighbour must tell the person who owns the land from which the tree or plant is growing, about the damage. The person whose property is damaged should instruct a surveyor to inspect the property to find out how bad the damage is. The surveyor must also be asked to confirm that the roots caused the damage. At this point, a letter should be written saying what has happened. You can send a complaint letter to a neighbour about tree root damage. A copy of the surveyor's report must be enclosed, together with a request for a proposal as to how the damage is to be repaired.

Access should be given to allow inspection of the damage and the report should be given to the person who owns the land from which the tree or plant is growing or to someone acting on their behalf. If there is no suitable proposal for the repair of the property, a builder should be instructed to give an estimate of the cost to repair the damage.

The damages which can be claimed would be the reasonable cost of remedial work that is reasonably required or has reasonably been spent to stabilise the foundations of the property and to get the property back to the state of repair that it was in before the damage occurred.

Finally, the fees charged by the surveyor form part of the claim and may be claimed.

Overhanging branches

By law, a property owner has the right to cut off any branches of a tree/plant owned by a neighbour which overhangs his/her property. Any branches removed must be returned to the tree's owner. Before doing so, it is a good idea to inform your neighbour of your intentions to trim the overhanging tree, either verbally or by letter.

Tree preservation orders

The local authority has the power to make a Tree Preservation Order if it is deemed that a tree offers amenity value to the surrounding area, and that its loss would have a significant impact on the environment and its enjoyment by the public. This is only appropriate if the tree would normally be visible from a public place, and contributes to the landscape in some way.

If a Tree Preservation Order has been made, and if you prune, fell or lop the tree which is the subject of the order in any way, then you commit an offence and may be fined. A personal search at the offices of the local authority will reveal whether a Tree Preservation Order has been made. Legislation concerning Tree Preservation Orders is contained within The Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Trees in Conservation Areas

If the tree is located within a Conservation Area, then prior to carrying out any work on the tree, six weeks' notice should be given in writing to the local authority, describing the tree and works to be carried out. The applicant must then wait six weeks for the local authority to consider whether or not to place a new Tree Preservation Order on the tree in question.

Trees and plants blocking light

Houses in many residential developments are built close together. This can reduce the amount of daylight to every home. The problem can be made worse if neighbours allow trees or other plants to grow and block the light from windows.

The right to light is a very complicated area of law. If your window has enjoyed uninterrupted light for 20 years or more, then you may be entitled to a right to light. You can write a letter requesting a neighbour to cut back a tree or plant blocking light.

If the neighbour refuses to prune the plant/tree, then professional advice should be sought.

If your complaint relates to an evergreen or semi-evergreen hedge over 2 metres high made up of a line of two or more trees or shrubs, then you have additional rights under Part 8 of the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003.

See our section on 'High hedges' for more information.

Scotland

There is no right to light per se in Scots law. However, provision giving you such a right by preventing your neighbour from growing large trees or plants near the boundary, may be made in your title deeds.

You should not attempt to prune the offending tree or plant yourself. If you do so, you may be prosecuted. The one exception to this is that, if branches are overhanging into your property, then you may prune these, but you must return the cut branches to your neighbour, as they belong to him or her. If the tree is in a conservation area or is the subject of a Tree Preservation Order, it is legally protected and you should not prune it, even if it overhangs your property.

If your neighbour refuses to prune the plant/tree, then professional advice should be sought. Your local authority may also be able to offer assistance.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, local councils only have powers to make a dangerous tree on private property safe, if it is overhanging a public footpath or road. If a dangerous tree is overhanging a neighbour's property, you will have to try and come to an agreement with the tree's owner. You could also think about going to mediation or, as a last resort, taking legal action against your neighbour.

Tree preservation orders and trees in conservation areas are the responsibility of the divisional planning offices in Northern Ireland.