Specialist property disputes solicitor, Mike Hansom, explains where you stand legally if a tall tree on your neighbour’s land is dangerous or causing problems.
Should you wish to discuss your own situation further, Mike is available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can email him, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
While trees enhance any neighbourhood, they can occasionally become a problem. If they do, it’s usually the result of poor care and management of the tree by the property owner.
In an earlier article, I explained where you stand legally regarding the common issues of encroaching tree roots and overhanging branches. Since then, I have received several enquiries concerning problems arising from the height of trees on neighbouring land and whether there is a maximum height of trees near houses. Broadly, these enquiries tend to fall into one of three categories – safety, light, or device reception.
Neighbour’s trees are too tall
The most common question I’m asked is whether there’s a law on conifer tree height. While there is no legislation restricting the height of any species of tree, every landowner has a general legal duty of care to ensure their trees do not pose an unacceptable risk to people or property. If they breach that duty, they will be liable for any reasonably foreseeable injury or damage that results.
Even if you consider your neighbour’s trees are too tall, trees are not generally dangerous, whatever their height. On the contrary, statistically, they are very safe, with annual fatalities in single figures. Trees have evolved to deal with various adverse conditions. Among other attributes, they are bio-mechanically equipped to cope with wind loading.
If you are concerned about the safety of a tree on neighbouring land, you may wish to seek advice from a tree surgeon. Although you should not access your neighbour’s property without their permission, a tree surgeon can usually spot a problem from a reasonable distance. If the tree is dangerous – in most cases the result of damage or disease – you can then speak to your neighbour armed with the relevant facts. It’s always worth following this up in writing. If possible, post the letter through their letterbox yourself, keep a copy and note the date and time of delivery. If they fail to take action and injury or damage occurs, you can demonstrate they were on notice of the problem.
Section 23 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976
Section 23 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 provides local authorities with the discretionary power to deal with dangerous trees within their area which are at imminent risk of causing damage. This legislation also enables them to recover the reasonable cost of doing so from the landowner. A concerned neighbour may therefore see this as the simplest solution. However, landowners are not always readily identifiable or traceable, and even if they are, they may well be impecunious. The result is that exercising this power often ends up becoming an irrecoverable expense for the local authority. For that reason, this is a discretionary power that most local authorities choose not to exercise, many expressly saying so on their websites.
Neighbour’s trees blocking sunlight
Rights of light (or a right to light) is a legal easement giving a property owner the right to enjoy the light passing over somebody else’s land and through defined apertures, typically windows, in their building. But it’s a common misconception that a homeowner can also acquire rights of light in their garden. In reality, the law provides no rights of light in respect of land that has not been built on.
Whether or not it’s a case of a neighbour’s trees blocking sunlight, the law concerning rights of light is not straightforward. See my article, Rights of Light explained.
Neighbours tree blocking satellite signal
It may come as a surprise to hear that being the holder of a TV licence or the subscriber to a satellite service, does not give you the right to a signal to your television, satellite receiver or radio. It merely allows you to own and use the device. So, if your reception is affected by trees on neighbouring land, there is no legal remedy available to you. Instead, you will have to rely upon neighbourly goodwill. If you believe that pruning or reducing the tree may solve the problem, you might offer to pay for, or largely contribute to, the cost of the work.
Please note that before undertaking any tree works, you should check with the local authority’s tree officer as to what rules and restrictions apply in the area, and whether permission is required.