My neighbour’s tree is posing a threat to my home. What can I do?
Property Clinic: Good relations are key when it comes to the issue of overhanging branches
When dealing with a tree’s upper branches, it is recommended that you engage professional assistance. Photograph: Getty
My problem is the overhanging branches of my neighbour’s trees. We live in a suburban house with a small back garden, and about 20 years ago the person in the house to the back of mine planted pine trees about 4ft apart and 3ft from the back boundary wall. The trees are about 35ft high and the upper branches now extend more than 8ft into my garden.
Given the times we live in and the importance of personal outdoor space, I approached the current owners and asked them nicely if they had any plans to carry out maintenance on the trees. They told me they did not have the money to do anything. Apart from the intrusion of the branches, every time the wind takes up they sway a lot and I am fearful that they pose a threat to property – mine, theirs and other neighbours.
Do I have any rights in relation to this issue, or do I have to wait until the trees die a natural death?
The nuisance caused by high overhanging trees from a neighbouring property can range from minor to quite serious or even dangerous. The situation, as you describe it, appears to be potentially dangerous. Unfortunately, your rights are somewhat limited.
There are two aspects to consider. Firstly, the encroachment by branches by more than 8ft (2.44m) in a small garden is considerable. You are entitled to cut the branches at the boundary line but must offer the cut branches to your neighbours, as they own them. You do not have to give them notice, provided you cut on the boundary line or on your side of it. However, in the interests of maintaining good relationships, it is advisable to give notice and explain your reasons for cutting them. For upper branches it is recommended that you engage professional assistance.
Secondly, you mention that you are fearful that they pose a threat. This issue is difficult to deal with if the neighbours are unco-operative. Any action you may propose or suggest is likely to risk creating tension or damaging relationships with your neighbours if they continue to resist co-operating. You have already made them aware of the issue, so they have a duty of care to you and others.
Being aware of a risk may also have more serious implications in relation to liability in the event of ensuing damage and/or litigation. Such situations tend to escalate, and the threat of litigation may emerge. Legal advice in relation to awareness of risk and of liability for damage is recommended.
Your best approach is to first establish if there is, or is likely to be, a threat or danger from the trees. An arborist or tree surgeon can assess the trees and provide a report. He/she would also advise in relation to cutting the high overhanging branches.
If the report confirms the threat or danger, you should attach a copy to a brief note referring to the date and outcome of your previous conversation and deliver it to your neighbour. The note should be written in a friendly context. It may offer co-operation in relation to the solution and/or cost, if you feel this is appropriate.
The report and note will be a record of your notification to your neighbours and of your concern. In the event that your neighbours do not reconsider and respond positively and that matters become more serious, and intervention at a future date is necessary, the report and its attached note will be in your favour. They will demonstrate that you exercised a duty of care and made them aware of the risk.
If the report indicates that there is not a risk, you will then be substantially dependent on your neighbours’ goodwill and co-operation to deal with the trees.
Irrespective of the report’s assessment, you will need the co-operation of your neighbours to achieve a satisfactory outcome. For this reason you should try to maintain a good relationship with them from the outset.
Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor, a chartered civil engineer and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie