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Homeowners spending more time at home and in their gardens during the Covid-19 pandemic is fuelling a rise in boundary disputes as infrequent niggles have blossomed into more serious complaints.

   

Overhanging branches, encroaching tree roots and towering hedges are proving to be a major source of disagreement between neighbours.

   

Property Boundary Dispute

 

When it comes to your neighbour’s plants encroaching on your garden space, there is not always a clear-cut answer, but the issue can cause a lot of frustration.

   

Severely overgrown trees can block the sunlight from your windows and cast shadows over your garden which can impact on your own enjoyment of your property. It can also mean that your plants, fruits or vegetables suffer. Another issue that causes annoyance is where leaves, fruit and debris fall into your garden or driveway from neighbouring trees. This can cause damage to vehicles, slip hazards, and effect your lawns and paving.

   

A more serious problem can occur when branches or roots cause harm to the foundations and brickwork of your home or outbuildings. If damage or subsidence is starting to occur, then it is important to act quickly. Speak to your neighbour as soon as the problem is identified, keep records, take photographs, and seek specialist advice from a surveyor if required.

   

Be Wary of Taking Your Own Action

 

Whilst it might be incredibly temping to see to the issue yourself and start pruning back your neighbours’ intrusions, it is important to speak to them first.

   

You would hope that most neighbours would be understanding and almost apologetic for their overgrowing gardens, however not everyone will see eye-to-eye.

   

Various protections may impact the right to trim back overhanging branches, even when they extend over a boundary or pose a health and safety threat. Where trees are in a conservation area or are covered by a tree preservation order, known as a TPO, even the owner will require council consent to prune or fell them.

   

If your neighbour is agreeable to you trimming back hedges or branches from the other side of the fence, then it is sensible to get some written contest from them before you get cutting – just to be on the safe side.

   

Some Recent Court Cases

 

In one case being heard by the courts, a Surrey homeowner is claiming that an apple tree has made her a ‘prisoner in her own home’, arguing that when the fruit falls and decays it attracts wasps, and she is allergic to their sting.  Her actions to cut back the tree without agreement have given rise to a long and bitter dispute, with legal costs now standing at £200,000 amid claims of trespass, harassment and obstruction.

   

In another case, in Norfolk, a mother has been unable to convince the local authority to let her cut back an overhanging walnut tree, despite her daughter having a severe nut allergy.  The walnut tree poses the threat of anaphylactic shock for her six-year-old daughter. She was granted permission to trim the tree back in 2018, however, when this lapsed and she had not acted, her re-application was unsuccessful.  The council said that the works could affect the health of the tree, and that they were considering protecting it with a TPO.

   

Lessons learnt from these two cases is to act promptly if you do get permission from a neighbour or local authority. And to be cautious when taking matters into your own hands – even if the boundary issue had potential to cause serious danger.

   

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When to Take Action

 
  • Your first port of call should be to address the problem directly with your neighbouring property. Try to resolve the issue amicably – they may be unaware of the problem, so it should be addressed in a calm and friendly manner.
  • If your neighbour is less than cooperative or refuses to act, then you should contact your local authority to intervene. If the property is owned by a housing association or private landlord, then contact them too to make them aware of the problem.
  • Failing the above, then you may wish to seek legal advice and possible action from a solicitor with experience in property disputes, who can act on your behalf to seek a solution.
  • If matters turn sour with a neighbour then you may need to take advice from the police if you are concerned over your safety or the safety of your private property.
   

Love Thy Neighbour?

 

Another important factor to note is that unless one of you move away, you will have to live alongside each other during a dispute and afterwards. The best approach is a restrained discussion to discuss the problem before rushing to the courts.

   

It is all too easy to let disputes escalate into personal battles which have even more impact on your enjoyment of your property than the original problem in the first place. It is a legal requirement to declare any neighbour disputes when selling a house. Failure to declare such matters could result in your buyer opening a mis-selling claim and taking legal action against you.

   

If you are keen to resolve a dispute in order to move house or to live in a more harmonious neighbourhood then mediation with your neighbours might help to find a way forward in a controlled and proactive atmosphere.

   

Speak to Someone Today

 

Understandably problems that affect your property can be very stressful to deal with. Nobody wants to be on bad terms with their neighbours or standby and see their property damaged.

   

For some bespoke advice, the Dispute Resolution Team at Lamb Brooks offer a Fixed Fee meeting to discuss the problems you are facing and offer suggestions for a way forward. The meeting can be held face-to-face, over the telephone or via Zoom/Teams if you prefer a video call.

   

For more information or to book a 30-minute or 60-minute appointment with our team, please call 01256 844888 or email enquiries@lambbrooks.com. Alternatively, you can speak to our online chat assistant who can take your details and arrange a call back.

   

Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

Devil is in the Detail for Residential Landlords

A Day in the Life of a Litigation Solicitor

How to Resolve Disputes Amicably

Lockdown with Nightmare Neighbours

     

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.