Trees and the law
Landowners are responsible for all trees within the boundary of their property. They have a duty to maintain the trees in a safe condition. To discharge this duty an owner must ensure the trees are inspected regularly for any signs that they are unsafe. The importance of regular, detailed inspections is to minimise the likelihood of damage or injury occurring if the tree or parts of it were to fall. If the risk is high, e.g. a large old tree next to a road, the importance is much greater. An owner without specialist knowledge would be expected to employ a suitably experienced and qualified arboriculturist to inspect them every 1 to 3 years depending on the degree of risk.
Trees that overhang property boundaries may be pruned back by the neighbour to the boundary line but no further. However this is bad practice as it may not enable the principles of good pruning to be applied. It is far better to get agreement from the owner to prune the tree properly. The cut branches must be offered back to the tree owner. If the tree is protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or growing in a conservation area you must get written approval from the council beforehand.
Trees obstructing the highway
The Highways Act 1980 requires that trees and other vegetation do not obstruct the passage of users. The Highway Authority requires a minimum clearance over any part of a footpath of 2.4 metres and over any part of a road of 5.2 metres. The Highway Authority have the powers to enforce these clearances.
If the tree is protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or growing in a Conservation Area you should consult the Borough Council’s Arboricultural Officer before carrying out any work.
Planting of trees
Generally trees can be planted anywhere on a property and there is no requirement for trees or hedges to be set back a certain distance from the boundary. However restrictions may exist through other controls such as covenants or planning controls.
Height of trees
There is no maximum height beyond which tree owners must not allow their trees or hedges to grow. They can be as tall as the owner wishes provided they do not cause damage to adjoining property unless restrictions are imposed through other controls such as covenants or planning conditions.
Damage by trees
Only if a tree causes actual damage to an adjoining property can the neighbour take any action in law. Actual damage could include branches breaking gutters or dislodging roof tiles and roots causing subsidence to a building. In all cases proof would be required for an action to succeed.
The right to light
The "right to light" is often quoted in relation to trees cutting out light to adjacent property. Whilst there is an established right in the case of new buildings obstructing light there is no clear precedent that trees cutting out light can infringe a persons "right to light".
Public rights of way
In most circumstances the responsibilities of the council do not extend to the maintenance of hedges and trees at the side of public rights of way. This is a matter for the landowner/occupier instead.
Where a hedge overhangs or obstructs a public right of way, the council has a right to remove so much of the overgrowth to prevent the obstruction to pedestrians and equestrians. Additionally, the council has a power to require the owner or occupier responsible for overhanging hedges and trees to remove the overgrowth within a period of 14 days after which default works can be carried out and the costs re-charged.
If a hedge, tree or shrub is dead, diseased, damaged or insecurely rooted and due to this is likely to endanger the right of way user, the council has a power to require the owner or occupier responsible to cut or fell it within 14 days to remove the danger.