As our gardens bloom, so do our neighbours’ trees. And many a less than neighbourly dispute begins.
A right to light?
There’s often confusion about how the law applies to a neighbour’s tree blocking out your light. In common law, no one has the right to light or to a view in their garden, so generally you can’t demand they cut down their tree to increase your share of the sunshine. Similarly, if their tree is blocking your view, that isn’t legally regarded as a nuisance.
There are some circumstances where you can claim a legal right to light, in much the same way as you’d claim an easement for a right of way. To succeed, however, you’d need to provide evidence of an uninterrupted use of light for more than 20 years.
If your property was once part of a larger plot that’s been divided, the transfer of the property could have included a right to light. If your property was registered, this would be noted on your property’s title register.
Be careful about pruning
You are entitled to cut any parts of a neighbour’s tree that grows into your garden, so long as you return the cuttings. But be aware, some trees are protected by preservation orders or in conservation areas, and it’s an offence to cut them back without the consent of the Local Authority.
Hassles with hedges
Well-publicised Leylandii disputes led to legislation under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, which allows you to complain to the Local Authority if the problem concerns a ‘high hedge’. The Local Authority can serve a remedial notice on the owners or occupiers of the land where the high hedge is situated, requiring action within 28 days to prevent or remedy the onerous effect of the hedge.
A high hedge is defined as a barrier to light or access formed wholly or predominantly by a line of two or more evergreens rising more than two metres above ground level. However, if there are significant gaps at two metres or above, it might not be regarded as a barrier, and the Local Authority may not act.
Look out below!
Finally, if a tree is considered to be potentially dangerous, the owner or occupier of the land could be liable for any injury or damage it causes.
Often a friendly word with your neighbour may be all that’s needed to resolve a tree-related issue.