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Problems with neighbours' tree

Photo of problem treesHere are some examples of some of the problems that can arise with trees in neighbours' gardens and what can be done about them.

A large tree in my neighbour's garden looks dangerous, what can I do?

The owner of the land on which the tree is growing remains responsible for the tree, its condition and any damage it may cause. With this in mind, you should make every effort to contact the tree owner, asking them to deal with the problem.

My next-door neighbour is allowing her tree to grow too big and I am afraid that in a strong wind it will blow over and fall on my house, car or even me.

Trees are not necessarily dangerous simply because of their size. For example, the giant redwood is one of the tallest trees in this country (it can reach heights of up to 40m) but it is notable for falling over only when the roots have been severely injured or damaged. Regular inspection should highlight areas of potential weakness, so that specialist advice may be sought from a tree expert. Remedial work can then be undertaken to reduce any threat identified to a reasonable level.

There is an ash tree in the park beside my house. Last summer one of the branches which overhangs my garden fell off and crashed into my greenhouse. There was no wind at the time and the branch did not appear to be decayed. I contacted the council, which owns the park. It said that the tree was inspected only three weeks earlier and no problems were reported. Who is going to pay for the greenhouse?

Since the tree had been inspected recently and provided the courts were satisfied there was no negligence (the inspection had been thorough and any remedial work carried out was satisfactory), the council is unlikely to be considered liable and would therefore not be responsible for the costs of repair. However, if your home insurance policy covers such damage your insurance company may pay for the repairs.

Can a private tree overhanging the pavement or road be pruned, as it is causing an obstruction?

Trees obstructing the pavement or road should have adequate clearance for the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles. Medway Council sometimes serves notice requiring tree owners to prune their trees to clear the obstruction. This can be done without further consent if it is a tree protected with a Tree Preservation Order but work must be limited to what is necessary to clear the obstruction. If you have been served with a notice and do not comply with it, Medway Council may do the work without further notice and charge you for it.  

My next-door neighbour has a horse-chestnut tree which overhangs my property. Recently, a large branch fell from the tree onto my garage, destroying the roof. I had noticed that the branch had a crack in it several months earlier and wrote to my neighbour asking him to cut the branch back. He didn’t reply and took no action. Is he responsible for the cost of the repairs?

Since a potential defect had been drawn to the attention of the tree owner, it is likely that he could be regarded as negligent by the courts and is therefore liable for the damage, because appropriate action was not taken. However, if the owner of the tree had sought advice from a tree expert, then provided any recommendations had been implemented, the tree expert may be liable in negligence for failing to recognise the potential danger.

A tree is overhanging into my property from my neighbour's garden. How do I get it cut back?

You cannot legally force anyone to prune back trees that overhang your property. You should ask the tree-owner to prune it back. If they refuse, you are legally entitled to prune it yourself but you can only prune back as far as your boundary. Pruning beyond the boundary or crossing the boundary to carry out pruning is considered trespass. 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. Before any work is undertaken, check there is not a Tree Preservation Order on the tree and that it is not in a Conservation Area. This information can be obtained from Medway Council's tree officers on 01634 333333.

I think the tree in my garden or neighbours garden is causing subsidence or cracks in my house wall. What should I do and can I get compensation?

This is not a matter for the council and you should engage a qualified surveyor or structural engineer to carry out a comprehensive survey to provide you with clear evidence and proposals for remedial action. There are many other things that can cause damage to buildings other than trees and an independent appraisal is vital if the end result could be an insurance claim and/or litigation. Responsibility for the maintenance and care of trees rests with the owner of the land on which they are growing. If a tree is causing damage to your property, the tree’s owner is liable for any claims for compensation and you must contact them directly.  

My television reception is interrupted by the branches or leaves on a tree. What rights do I have and what can the council do to help?

Unfortunately the purchase of a television licence or satellite system simply provides a permit to use the equipment with no guarantee or legal right of reception. When deciding on the system you intend to use and the location of any aerial or dish, please consider existing trees and their potential to grow larger. Medway Council does not heavily prune or remove trees to deal with this issue. Using a high gain aerial or a remote aerial or dish for the signal can sometimes achieve better reception.

Leaves, fruit and seeds fall from the tree outside my house, land on my property and are a nuisance. Is there anything the council can do to stop this?

These are all seasonal problems that pruning cannot generally solve. Medway Council will prune trees where the work complies with best practice but will not disfigure or fell trees to deal with these issues.