Trees are a common cause of disagreements between neighbours. Disputes can arise over tree size, overhanging or fallen branches, shade, invasive root systems and the potential for a tree to cause injury or damage. The rights and responsibilities of tree owners and affected neighbours are covered by the common law of nuisance.
To establish that the tree owner is legally responsible, an affected neighbour must first prove that a tree (or trees) is the problem. This is straightforward if the issue is visible but difficult to prove if root damage is alleged.
If the tree and its root system is entirely on the owner’s side of the boundary then there is no liability. Moreover, there is no liability for shading, unsightliness, or the blocking of a view by a tree which is entirely on another person’s land. If a strong, healthy tree blows down in a storm, this is considered an ‘act of god’ for which there is no liability. Also, trees defined as ‘regulated’ or ‘significant’ cannot be touched without a court order.
Negligence on the part of the tree owner may be proved if the affected neighbour’s property sustained loss or damage due to the owner’s failure to take adequate precautions. In this case compensation would usually be sought by the affected neighbour. Also, if the tree owner cuts off branches or gathers leaves and discards them over the boundary, the affected neighbour may bring an action for trespass.
Where a nuisance situation is found to exist, the law may provide several remedies, depending on whether actual damage or loss has occurred, or is likely to occur. In most cases the main legal remedy for encroaching roots or branches is the right to cut them off at the boundary. However, this would usually be at the cost of the affected neighbour. If a tree owner is unwilling to pay for loss or damage the affected neighbour may apply for a court order.
Scammell & Co can provide advice and assist clients in resolving such disputes between neighbours. Contact us for a FREE intitial discussion.
For information on the civil litigation (dispute resolution) process please follow the link here.