“Five years ago, we planted a tree on the boundary with our neighbour’s garden, with their permission. However, a new neighbour moved in a couple of months ago. They said the tree blocked the light into their front room and cut it down without asking us. Were they legally allowed to do so, or have we got the right to ask for compensation?”
Thomas Moran, a partner in private client property at Speechly Bircham, says:
Trees growing in a garden belong to the owner of the garden, but if the tree straddles the boundary and extends its trunk and roots over the boundary, it is owned in common by the two landowners.
In this case, while the neighbour can lop or cut down branches and roots that are on their land, there is no authority that permits the neighbour to cut down the tree trunk. Set against this, there is the law of nuisance which gives the new neighbour a right to “abate” a nuisance.
It is difficult to know what a court would decide if faced with the situation as this is a grey area. If I was asked by the neighbour before he cut down the tree, I would be inclined to discourage him, so you may have a right to compensation.
Love them or hate them, you can't escape your neighbours and, in most cases, it is worth making an effort to keep the peace with them. Remember, not only do you have to live in close proximity to your neighbours (and vice versa, of course) but if you sell your home down the line then your relationship with the people living next door could impact your sale.
When a problem arises, the first thing to do is try to resolve it amicably as soon as possible. Whether it is your tree causing the problems or your neighbour's garden is impacting your quality of life, talking about the issue calmly (and face-to-face if possible) to try and get a better understanding of each other's concerns could throw up a solution.
It might also be worth getting in an independent mediator to help negotiations (contact Mediation UK to ﬁnd your nearest community mediation service) or to restrict communications to letters or emails if the situation is hostile. Make sure you keep notes from all meetings and copies of correspondence.
If these approaches fail to work then you could make a complaint to your council - let your neighbour know you plan to do this is advance - as a last resort. Remember, you will have to pay the council for this service and there is no guarantee that your complaint will be upheld.
The government has produced a guide to dealing with garden boundaries and disputes, which you can download from the Department for Communities and Local Government website.