At this time of year, many homeowners will be in their gardens pruning back hedges and trees. Just be sure you don’t chop off more than you can handle, says Ruhul Ameen, a partner at local solicitors Wiseman Lee
If you are planning to do more than a little light pruning and are considering more major changes in your garden, it’s worth making sure you are aware of your legal rights first – particularly if it affects neighbouring properties.
In one case, a Dorset homeowner was prosecuted for cutting down 11 trees on his property. He had not realised they were subject to a Tree Preservation Order. This meant he needed to apply to his local authority for permission before either pruning or removing the trees. One of the consequences of removing the trees was that it increased the light and garden space of the property. In fact, when the case went to court, lawyers acting for the council argued that the tree removal had added an additional £137,500 to the value of his £1.4m home. Despite claiming he had not carried out the work to enhance the value of the property but had only removed the trees to protect his grandchildren from potential falling branches, the court was not convinced. The homeowner was handed a £170,000 fine plus court costs. A Proceeds of Crime Order was also made to recover the increase to the value of his home.
Another individual who ran into tree-related problems was a property developer from South Devon who was investigated by the Forestry Commission. Furious neighbours discovered an entire woodland area next to their homes had been felled without permission. The once picturesque green hillside had been cleared of its trees to make way for a proposed development of nine houses. It probably goes without saying the local council took an extremely dim view of the individual’s decision to prepare the groundwork before seeking planning permission and so refused his application.
However, too little cutting back can sometimes be just as bad as too much. Closer to home, one London homeowner was sued by her neighbours for £500,000 because of damage to their properties. They claimed the damage had been caused by the roots of four sycamore trees, which had extended under their properties and caused subsidence.
It is not only trees that lead to problems in the garden. Japanese knotweed is a well-known cause of neighbour disputes. However, a landmark Appeal Court ruling means homeowners who are blighted by Japanese knotweed growing on neighbouring land now have legal redress. Network Rail was taken to court by two Welsh homeowners who claimed the company had not taken sufficient steps to deal with the fast-growing plant, which had become so overgrown it had extended underneath their properties. The Appeal Court sided with the homeowners, agreeing the knotweed was an ‘actionable nuisance’. This decision means homeowners can now take legal action if a neighbour is not taking the appropriate steps to stop Japanese knotweed encroaching onto their land.