Your rights regarding your neighbour's trees

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Trees can add a great number of benefits to a garden. They could be fruit-bearing trees, they could provide shade and they can also add a great deal of colour to a garden. However, they can also cause a nuisance to a next-door neighbour when they start encroaching onto their side of the boundary. Therefore, it’s important to know what your rights are and what you can and cannot do.

Please note that this information is provided by the Council for guidance purposes. If you are in doubt regarding your legal position, you are advised to obtain professional advice.

Establishing ownership of trees

The tree belongs to the person upon whose land it has originally grown. Even if its branches or its roots have begun to grow over or into a neighbour’s territory, it belongs to the landowner where the tree was originally planted. For trees that straddle a boundary, the general rule of thumb is that ownership rests with whoever has the greatest proportion of a tree’s trunk footprint on their side of the boundary. If in doubt, ownership may be shared. Even if the tree bears fruit or flowers on branches, which overhang into your land, it’s an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to pick and keep the fruit, for example.

Overhanging branches

If the branches of a neighbour’s tree start to grow over to your side, you can cut them back to the boundary point between you and your neighbour’s property. However, before you undertake works to any trees, it is important to check the trees are not covered by a Tree Preservation Order, or located within a Conservation Area. The tree owner’s permission is required if the work requires access to their land. The branches and any fruit on them, which you may have cut down on your side, still belong to the tree owner so they can ask you to return them. Alternatively, you can return them and ask your neighbour to dispose of them themselves should you wish to do so. 

What might seem a bit of a strange anomaly, however, is that even though any leaves from your neighbour’s tree may fall into your garden in autumn, you have no right to ask them to come around and sweep them up.

For further information regarding Tree Preservation Order or Conservation Area tree protection please contact the council’s Tree and Woodlands Section on (01727) 866100 or email treesandwoodlands@stalbans.gov.uk.

Tree roots

The perceived threat of damage by tree roots is one of the biggest concerns people have about trees and much of this concern is unwarranted. However, you are entitled to dig up and remove any roots that have encroached upon your land.  Please note however that root cutting can render a tree unstable and you could be liable if your actions lead to your neighbour’s tree falling over. Permission must also be obtained from the Council if the tree is protected by a TPO or in a Conservation Area.

Roots can cause problems and if they are deep and/or causing subsidence or any other form of damage to your side of the property, you might need to get a tree surgeon or a structural engineer to deal with the problem. 

Roots can be found in drains. However, this is often as a result of leaks. The solution is usually to rebuild the drain or to have it re-lined. Simply removing the tree may not solve the problem as roots from other nearby vegetation could enter the affected drains, also causing a blockage.

Tree roots can expand with age and lift paving slabs and the surface of tarmac areas causing them to become uneven and unsafe. Repairs can involve re-laying paving at a higher level or in some cases include root pruning, although the latter cannot include large anchor roots. It’s always better to discuss this with your neighbour first before resorting to expert advice.

Trees and light

Technically your neighbour only has a duty to ensure their trees are safe and not causing damage to other persons’ property. There is no absolute right to light across a neighbour’s land. 

Shading of gardens is unlikely to be an infringement of a right to light, unless the trees are evergreen and a High Hedge complaint against the owner is upheld by the Council. Please see Problems with your neighbour's high hedges.

The tree is affecting my television and satellite reception

There is no legal right to television reception. Existing trees on neighbouring land that interfere with television reception, especially with satellite transmissions, are unlikely to be regarded as a nuisance in law.

The tree is making a sticky mess on my car or in my garden

This is a seasonal problem is caused by aphids and is known as “honeydew” with tree species such as Lime and Sycamore. Unfortunately this is a problem that cannot be solved by pruning or spraying with insecticides. Honeydew is a mild sugar solution and should not affect paintwork on cars if they are washed regularly.

Trees obstructing views

There is no right in law to a view and a view obstructed by trees cannot be legally regarded as a nuisance.

Trees and construction

New development may affect trees on adjoining land as well as the development site and planning authorities frequently require tree surveys to be submitted as part of an application for new buildings or other development. Prior to any design work a survey to BS 5837 ‘Trees in Relation to Construction’ will identify trees that should be retained and those of little or no value. The design of the building, its location and foundations can then take into account trees to be retained. Property owners adjoining proposed new developments are informed of the plans by the Council’s planning department and have the opportunity to comment if they think their trees will be adversely affected.


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Date of last review: 01 May 2015