Reader question

My neighbours trees overhang my garden, when I asked him about cutting them back he said that was my responsibility and I'd have to cover any costs. Is this correct?

Expert answer

1.) Is it Tom’s responsibility to cut them back?

Tom does have a right under common law to cut back overhanging trees that are encroaching upon his property provided that he does not go over the boundary between his neighbour’s land and his own. However, Tom should discuss this with his neighbour beforehand to avoid claims of damage and perhaps seek a written agreement from his neighbour that he was allowed to cut the overhanging trees. As the tree(s) belong to the land on which they originally grew; Tom will need to return any branches to his neighbour unless he has agreed beforehand to dispose of them himself.

If Tom does choose to take this course of action; he will need to be very careful that he does not cause damage to the tree(s) when cutting them as this could leave him open to liability claims from his neighbour. He will also need to check whether the tree(s) are subject to a tree preservation order or if they are in a conservation area. He can do so by contacting his local authority. If they are and he cuts down the overhanging branches himself then this could leave him guilty of an offence under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 under s.210 and/or s.211.

Tom’s email doesn’t mention whether the overhanging trees are causing any problems with access to light. If the tree(s) are blocking light to a window or glass house on Tom’s property then he might be able to acquire a right to light under s.3 of the Prescription Act 1832 and s.1 of the Right s of Light Act 1959. He will need to show that he has had a certain amount of light for 20 uninterrupted years. He will need to apply to his local authority to register a notice in lieu of obstruction of access of light.

Tom should also check his title deeds to see if there any covenants stating that his neighbour must not block his light as he may be able to seek a solution this way.

Whilst Tom does have a right to cut down the overhanging branches; he is not obligated to do so; however he also cannot force his neighbour to do so; unless of course the court holds that the neighbour is trespassing on Tom’s land; causing a nuisance and/or negligent (where damage has been caused).

2.) Will Tom need to pay the costs is he cuts down the overhanging trees?

If Tom does cut back the overhanging branches he will need to pay for this himself unless of course he reaches some sort of amicable solution about the cost of doing so with his neighbour.

If any leaves fall from the trees into Tom’s garden he cannot force his neighbour to get rid of them/sweep them up. If however; the leaves clog Tom’s drains causing damage then Tom can ask his neighbour to pay for the cost of having them cleared or to pay for the cost of any damage. If the neighbour refuses then Tom can sue for damages.


Tom has several options available here:

  • Tom hasn’t mentioned if the trees are causing any damage or access to light issues and if the overhanging trees aren’t causing any significant problems then he might choose to do nothing.
  • He could choose to speak to his neighbour to see if they can come to some sort of compromise re the overhanging trees.
  • If there are issues with access to light, Tom might be able to acquire a right to light. He will need assistance from his Local Authority with doing this.
  • Tom should check his deeds carefully to see if there are any covenants re right to light.
  • Tom could seek legal redress and sue his neighbour for trespass; nuisance and/or negligence (if there has been some damage caused by the overhanging trees). Obviously this will sour the relationship with his neighbour.

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