Sunlight is precious, especially in the UK. So, if a neighbour allows their trees or hedges to grow to the point where they are taking those rare rays away from our property, it can easily lead to a nasty dispute.
Question is, what can you do about a neighbour’s tree blocking sunlight? Do you have any legal rights? Can you force your neighbour to take action and prune the offending plant?
We’ll take a look at all these points, and a few more besides, in this week’s article.
Can you force a neighbour to cut down their tree?
Let’s, ahem, cut to the chase and get to the main point: Can you force a neighbour to prune their tree in order to get sunlight back into your garden?
In most cases, no, you cannot force a neighbour to cut down a tree in order to bring light into your garden. You may, however, be able to get the tree cut back if it is blocking light from passing through a ‘defined aperture’ in your property, such as a window or glass door, for example.
Even then, it’s not a 100% certainty you’ll be able to take action under the Right of Light Act, as many trees will let at least some light through their leaves and branches. Add to that the fact that a lot of trees are deciduous, i.e. they shed their leaves annually, and you’ll often find that Right to Light claims in these instances are dismissed because they do not block all of the light.
To be clear, if you are looking simply to increase light to your garden, the Right of Light Act is not going to help, as this easement is solely for receiving light through defined apertures in buildings on your land, not the land itself.
The difference between tree and trees
A key question is whether or not your light is being blocked by one or more trees. If you are losing sunlight to a single tree because of its height, you’ll be left with little more than the option to talk to your neighbour and persuade them to cut it back to a reasonable size.
On the other hand, if there are two or more trees standing at two metres above ground level (or higher), you may be able to get help from your local council under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act’s High Hedges Regulations 2005.
This act includes protection for the complainant’s reasonable enjoyment of their domestic property, including their garden or part of their garden. If they believe you have a case, your local authority can issue your neighbour with a notice to lower the height of the offending trees.
What about trees that overhang my garden?
This is another area where you may be able to get something done about a neighbour’s tree blocking your light, but for an altogether different reason.
If the tree in question overhangs your garden and has the potential to be dangerous - either to you, your family, or your property - you may find that your local council will deem it a nuisance and take action on your behalf.
Another avenue could be to take out a private nuisance claim via the county court, asking them to order your neighbour to make the tree safe. This route, however, does involve a degree of risk, as you may not win and will be left to pay costs. You’ll also need to enlist a solicitor to help file your claim as well.
Can’t I just cut the tree myself?
While it may be tempting, cutting down your neighbour’s tree is not the way to go. In fact, even pruning it back could land you in hot water.
Firstly, there’s an outside chance the tree might be protected. There could be a tree preservation order in place that you’re unaware of, or the tree could sit within a conservation area. Either way, tampering with it without prior consent is obviously to be avoided, so check with your neighbour, and the council, first.
An unrestricted tree does leave you with some rights, under common law, to pruning if branches are encroaching on your property. You should, however, still be extremely cautious about what you do, especially if there’s a longstanding dispute between yourself and your neighbour over the offending tree.
Any damage you cause to the tree could result in a liability claim, so employing a professional arborist is your best bet. You should also be aware that, as the tree belongs to your neighbour, anything removed from it is their property. Chopped down branches either need to be returned to them or a prior agreement should be reached if you wish to dispose of them yourself.
In an ideal world…
As with so many property disputes, good communication should be priority number one if you find yourself with a neighbour’s tree blocking sunlight from reaching your garden or home. Talk to them before you do anything else and remain civil, you might be surprised by their willingness to accept your point of view.