Nuisance and dangerous trees or hedges

on private land

This advice covers some of the complaints made to the City Council about problem trees and hedges on private land, but which are normally civil matters and therefore not something resolved or enforced by local authorities.

The information that follows below is not a definitive guide to the law and legal advice should be sought in civil disputes, before taking action in a court or if you wish to clarify your rights.

Every tree owner has a general duty of care to ensure their trees do not pose an unacceptable risk to other people on or adjacent to their land. The landowner will only be liable for injury or damage caused by trees if they are found to be negligent.

 

What should I do if I think that a tree on a neighbouring property is dangerous?

Large trees are not necessarily dangerous and regular inspection will show areas of weakness. Work should then be undertaken to make the tree safe. A tree does not become a danger simply by being large or tall. Trees can live and remain healthy for decades, even hundreds of years. Of course there is no legal limit to the size of a tree. Their size is limited by availability of nutrients, light and water, but ultimately by physics - the way it transports water from its roots to its leaves - and not by legislation. 

You may wish to seek the advice of a tree surgeon if you are concerned about a neighbour's tree close to your own property. Once you are sure of your facts you should notify your neighbour of your concerns by first speaking to them and then following this up in writing (we suggest that you keep a copy of the letter) and ask that he/she address the problem.

It is always the tree owner's responsibility to make any dangerous tree safe. If he/she does not take appropriate action and damage occurs from their negligence then you (or possibly your insurer if you make an insurance claim) may be able to take action against the tree owner. You should seek your own legal/insurance advice in such cases. If a tree was dying, damaged or diseased and the owner knew it was at risk of falling, he/she could be liable if it falls over on its own, but a neighbour would not be liable if a healthy tree fell over due to a storm or other natural event.

Note: The City Council does not deal with trees under section 23 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. Under this legislation local authorities have discretionary powers to deal with dangerous trees at imminent risk of causing damage.

 

What if my property is damaged by the growth of a neighbour's tree?

Your neighbour is responsible for maintaining their trees and hedges so they do not damage your property. If they do damage your property, for example roots or branches cause damage to a wall, your neighbour may be liable. You should seek professional legal advice on this.

If a neighbour’s tree is causing subsidence or cracks in your wall, you should also get a qualified surveyor or structural engineer to carry out a survey and give you the evidence to present to the owner of the tree.

 

Overhanging branches and encroaching roots

You should ask the tree owner to cut back growth from trees on their property.

If they decline to cut back the trees or hedge, under common law, you have the right to cut the roots or branches that come onto your property back to the boundary line without the neighbour's consent (with the exception of protected trees, such as trees included in a Tree Preservation Order or situated within a Conservation Area - in which case the Council's prior permission must be sought). This right can only be exercised by persons who are the owner(s) or occupier(s) of the land affected by the encroachment, not by employees, lodgers or family members.

The vegetation you prune off is still technically the tree owner’s property and you have to offer it back to them, although they do not have to accept it. In the event that the tree owner does not want the vegetation, you would be responsible for its disposal. You are not allowed to simply put the tree material back over the boundary fence into their garden (you may be committing a criminal offence).

You should be aware that if the work you do causes the tree or shrub to die, it may result in legal proceedings being taken by your neighbour. The person carrying out the works therefore has to exercise reasonable care as failure to do so may lead to liability in negligence (for example where the removal of roots make a tree unstable or it dies).

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it a criminal offence to destroy any bird’s nest that is either in use or being built. When you cut a hedge or tree, you should take this into account.

Any work must be carried out from your own property as crossing the boundary line may be deemed a trespass (trespass is a civil matter).

If the neighbouring tree is causing, loss, harm or damage through its roots or overhanging branches, there may be a case of private nuisance. It is foreseeable that boundary trees will encroach, via their branching crown and roots onto neighbouring land. Nuisance could therefore be caused by:

  • encroachment by the tree onto a neighbour’s land

  • physical impact to a neighbour’s land, or

  • undue interference with a neighbour’s comfortable and convenient enjoyment of their land

Only where the trees cause actual damage should you really consider legal action. You have the right to remove the overhang, must use reasonable care in doing so, and only need to inform the neighbour in advance if you intend to access their land. Your legal rights should be confirmed by seeking the advice of a solicitor.

 

Taking action

As a local authority, we have no power to deal with trees causing a nuisance to you, such as shading or blocking light, except for evergreen high hedges, or where roots cause damage such as lifting pathways or invading drains. We have published separate guidance on high hedges.

Common law responsibilities and issues involving private nuisance have to be enforced through the civil courts, by pursuing an action against the owner of the tree or hedge for nuisance and/or negligence. This has to be done by the person suffering the loss. 

The law on nuisance/negligence is complicated and anyone considering such action is advised to seek advice from a solicitor.

Find a solicitor (Law Society)

 

Did you know?

The Council does not have responsibility for trees which it does not own, has no obligation to take action in relation to privately-owned trees and is not liable for damage caused by trees in others' ownership.

The Council, as highway authority, has powers to deal with trees under the Highways Act 1980, which are on land next to the road and are a risk to users of the road.

Trees or hedges affecting the public highway can be reported on this form, or telephone on 0191 278 7878 and ask for 'Envirocall'.

 

Trees

Need more information?

If you have a dispute related to trees or hedges not covered by the high hedge law you are advised to seek legal advice from your own solicitor.

You should also speak to a solicitor about any issues involving boundary law. The Council cannot get involved in private legal matters.

 

General advice on steps to take if you have a dispute with your neighbour can be found here:

Resolving neighbour disputes (HM Government advice)

 

Information about local community mediation services can be found at:

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