My neighbour’s tree is blocking the sunlight in my garden. With every year the tree grows taller, the problem worsens.
I have made a number of polite requests to my neighbour to either prune or cut down the tree, which he has rebuffed.
We now get almost no sunlight in our back garden, but he is still refusing to do anything because he says it acts as a privacy screen from other properties.
We are also concerned that some of the tree’s branches that overhang our garden are a danger to our children, and could also damage our conservatory roof.
Is there anything we can do? What are our legal rights? Via email
Leaf beef: Unless you are in a conservation area or the tree is protected under a TPO, you have the right to cut back any overhanging branches of the tree that encroach upon your property
Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: Tree disputes between neighbours are commonplace – so rest assured, you’re not alone.
Living in the shadow of a neighbour’s tree and being deprived of that rare and precious British sunlight is enough to upset most homeowners.
But with its overhanging branches posing a potential danger to both your family and your property, there is even more justification to kick up a fuss.
If there is still chance of compromise with your neighbour, an amicable solution would always be best.
Perhaps offering to pay for the tree to be removed yourself, or finding a way to compensate for their loss of privacy such as putting in a higher fence, might help change their mind.
However, we will assume based on your previous interactions with your neighbour that diplomacy has failed.
Prior to doing anything, it would be worth checking whether you are in a conservation area or if the tree might be subject to a tree preservation order.
If there is more than one tree adversely impacting your enjoyment of your property, it is worth a call to your local council
In both cases, the tree may be protected – by contacting your local council, you should be able to establish whether this is the case.
If the tree is protected, you will likely need the council’s permission first before launching any arboreal offensive.
If the tree is not subject to any protections, you will be within your rights to cut back any branches that overhang your property.
Avoid cutting any branches beyond your boundary into the neighbour’s land – if you do, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property or sue for trespass.
As for the constant shadow you find yourself now living under, the law states that if a property has received daylight for the last 20 years you may be entitled to continue to receive that light.
But much depends on whether there is more than one tree blocking the sunlight that you had previously been able to enjoy.
If there are two or more trees, or a hedge, which is over two metres in height and is negatively impacting your enjoyment of your property, you can complain to your local council by applying for something called a high hedges notice.
You will need to complete a complaint form and pay a fee for lodging the complaint, the amount of which is set by the local authority.
The council cannot order your neighbour to remove the trees, but the notice, if served, will require them to at least cut the branches back.
The council is unlikely to accept your application for a high hedges notice unless you’ve tried to negotiate first with your neighbour, according to Citizens Advice, so it may help if you provide written evidence to prove this.
If it is just the one tree that is the menace, the high hedges route won’t be possible.
Instead, you will need to remind your neighbour of their legal responsibility to make sure it doesn’t damage your property, garden, or boundary fence.
We spoke to Mary Rouse, head of property litigation at Wright Hassal, Paul Fawell, director at Right of Light Consulting and Michael Kilbane, senior associate solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors to delve deeper into answering your issue.
Do you have a right to light?
Paul Fawell replies: Despite trees reducing the light to properties, they are rarely capable of infringing rights of light.
This is because the majority of trees are deciduous in nature and allow glimpses of light to penetrate from between the branches and foliage.
For a right of light claim, the obstruction needs to be a solid block to the light.
Mary Rouse replies: You have a right to enjoy the natural light that enters your property through a ‘defined aperture’ such as through a window for example.
Your title deeds may grant you a right, or you may acquire it if you have had uninterrupted light for more than 20 years.
Growing pains: An overgrown tree can be a source of arguments between neighbours
However, there is no right of light for land which has not been built on, and so a right to light can’t be obtained in respect of light into a garden.
If there is simply less and less natural light coming into your garden because of trees growing taller and taller, you can’t claim to have a right to light.
If only one tree is causing the problem, and it’s the height of it that is the main issue, your only option is to try and negotiate with your neighbours.
If there is more than one tree, or a hedge adversely affecting your property and they are more than two metres high, you may be able to get help from your local council.
The council can serve your neighbours with a notice requiring them to reduce the height of the trees or hedge and even prosecute your neighbours if they don’t co-operate.
What about the potential danger to your household and property?
Mary Rouse replies: If branches that are overhanging your garden are a potential danger to your family or your property, then this is classed as a nuisance.
If you can’t reach them to easily cut them back, you should write to your neighbour and ask them to do so.
If they refuse, you can ask the local council to inspect.
If they consider the tree to be a danger to the public, they can serve notice requiring your neighbour to remove it or cut it back and prosecute them if they don’t comply.
Alternatively, you could bring a private nuisance claim in the county court, asking the court to order your neighbour to take the necessary steps to make the tree safe.
You will need a solicitor to help you with this, and you will have to be prepared to meet the legal costs.
If you win your case, you may well get a court order requiring your neighbour to pay most of your costs.
What else should you be aware of?
Michael Kilbane replies: Unless the tree is protected, remember you have the right to at least cut back any overhanging branches of the tree that are encroaching upon your property.
But any cutting back must not stray over the boundary between your land and your neighbour’s.
Agreement should be obtained from your neighbour for this work to avoid any potential claims for damage.
Also don’t throw the branches into your neighbour’s garden without their consent as this could be deemed as fly tipping, which is illegal.
Identify a local tree surgeon to do this work for you – they know what they’re doing and spending the money would be worth it so the job is done safely and professionally.
The tree surgeon says they need access to your neighbour’s garden in order to prune the branches overhanging your land – what should you do next?
Michael Kilbane replies: It might be worth approaching the neighbour one last time to try and agree matters – it shows that you are reasonable and you have taken the opportunity to emphasise the potential injury and damage the tree could cause.
If agreement isn’t reached, the time may have come to instruct a solicitor to formalise the issues in writing.
But, before instructing a solicitor check all your insurance policies to see if you have legal expenses insurance.
This is a form of insurance that could cover the legal costs of many everyday issues or disputes.
If you do have it, then you should contact the insurance provider to find out if this dispute would be covered.
If covered, the insurance provider will inform you about your choices for instructing a solicitor to assist you.
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