Q&A: tree disputes

John Conlin / 27 November 2018

Chartered surveyor answers reader questions on the tricky issue of trees in neighbouring gardens.



Question: next door housing association gardens not tended to

Next door to my house is a small block of flats owned by a housing association. The surrounding grounds are not tended beyond mowing the grass. Consequently two sycamore trees along my boundary have grown so much that a large part of my garden is in permanent shade. The housing association says that government regulations prevent cutting them down.

Answer

Unless there is a tree preservation order (TPO) in existence, I know of no ‘regulation’ that would prevent proper management of the trees. Ask the housing association to state what ‘regulation’ they are relying on. If all else fails you are legally entitled to cut back anything that overhangs your boundary at your cost but you will have to return the prunings.

Question: a tree next door is pushing our paving bricks up

The roots of a crack willow growing just the other side of my boundary have started to lift the brick paviors of my drive and are heading towards my house. My neighbour accepts that the damage is caused by his tree but is reluctant to cut it down as it was planted by his late wife. Is there any other solution?

Answer

You can often cause as much trouble by cutting a mature tree down as leaving it be. A mature tree takes up surprisingly large quantities of water from the subsoil, which becomes conditioned to supply the water and will continue to do so after the tree has been felled, risking soil heave and boggy ground.

I would suggest that your neighbour inserts a vertical root barrier between the tree and the boundary. A slit-trenching machine will cut a narrow slot in the soil at least 1.2m (4ft) deep into which sheet or corrugated metal panels can be inserted to deflect root growth away from the boundary. Additionally your neighbour should regularly prune to reduce the canopy (leaf volume) as that will reduce the tree’s ‘thirst’ and root spread.

Question: is there a legal obligation to stop tree roots spreading?

In a previous issue of Saga Magazine you answered a question about a neighbour’s willow tree recommending that the neighbour should install a below ground metal barrier to prevent the reader’s house being damaged by willow roots.

I have a similar problem with a row of sycamores next door. Your answer seemed to suggest that there was a legal obligation on the tree owner to stop the roots ‘trespassing’. Is this so?

Answer

The previous questioner was seeking a practical solution to avoid felling a tree which had sentimental value and there was acceptance by both neighbours of the risk of root damage. There is no legal remedy until damage occurs. All you can do is to alert your neighbour to the risks and their potential liability if damage occurs.

Question: a tall tree sits on our boundary, who is responsible?

A very tall sycamore tree sits at the end of our garden, right on the garden boundary with our neighbour where there is no fence. The tree sits on a mound about five feet off the ground and the roots are visible. I am worried that the tree may fall and have approached the neighbour to ask if they would share the cost of reducing the tree by at least 30 feet (a cost of £600) but he says to do so would be to accept joint responsibility for the tree and he does not wish to do so. I would be grateful if you could let me know where I stand legally on this issue.

Answer 

You say the tree is tall, stands on an isolated 5ft mound with exposed roots. This is worrying as the tree’s anchorage will be weak and it could be uprooted in a storm. Your neighbour is wrong in thinking that he can evade responsibility by refusing to share the costs of safety precautions. If, as you state, the tree straddles the boundary it is a joint ownership and both of you will be jointly responsible for any third party damage or injury. If he continues to refuse to co-operate tell him that you will ask the local Health & Safety officer to take action which might involve a Court Order.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.