We bought our new home in an urban area relatively recently and noticed during the summer that our neighbour's trees were significantly blocking our natural light, leaving a very gloomy feeling in the house. We are new home owners and aren't really sure what the norm is in this situation. We are also very keen not to get off on the wrong foot with our neighbours. Should we ask them to have the trees trimmed? What is the best approach? They are elderly, so we are conscious not to put them to too much trouble. Any advice would be appreciated.
Trees and the related issue of natural light – or the blocking of it – are one of the most common issues for property owners and their neighbours. It’s not altogether clear from your question if they are boundary trees or wholly within your neighbour’s plot.
Any tree that encroaches upon your property and/or air space and/or below ground may be trimmed back to the boundary line. However, that comes with one important caveat. You must exercise caution and take care not to cause any damage to the tree[s] and you should not enter your neighbour’s property without consent/agreement. Also, do not take the wood from the tree, for use or disposal, without the consent of your neighbour.
If they [the trees] are wholly within your neighbour’s plot and casting a shadow, that is a more complex matter because many more things need to be considered. The professionals who you will most likely need to engage to establish how exactly the light is materially affecting your plot are an architect or a geomatics surveyor and a solicitor.
The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland together with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland have published a guidance note entitled Rights of Light and it sets out a clear and comprehensive list of items that need to be considered complete with both practical and professional advice.
A right of light for the purpose of this guidance note is a private, legally enforceable easement or right to a minimum level of natural daylight illumination through a “defined aperture”, usually a window opening, whether conferred by expressed or implied grant or obtained at common law by a process of long, uninterrupted enjoyment known as “prescription”.
As with all easements, there is a dominant tenement that enjoys the rights and a servient tenement that is subject to and carries the burden of their existence. Rights to light do not serve garden areas, usually.
It may be the case that your neighbours are entirely unaware of the issues you are experiencing. Perhaps if they were made known to them, in a non-confrontational way, and the situation explained they may well be willing to do something to assist you or obviate the issue[s] altogether. The alternative can be lengthy, expensive and protracted.
It is always best, where possible, to seek to engage with your neighbour. Resolving neighbourly matters in a good-natured fashion, where possible, is without question the best approach.
Sarah Sherlock is a chartered geomatics surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie