If your neighbour's trees are blocking light from your house or garden, it is important to take the correct steps to resolve the issue. As we reported a few weeks ago, trimming your neighbour's foliage is not the correct – by which we mean legal – solution to this issue, and could land you in trouble. The more thorough and consistent you are in how you approach the matter, however, the more likely you are to get a result.
Councils are (understandably) reluctant to step in on garden matters until the neighbours have tried to reach a compromise, and in many cases, it's simpler and quicker to speak to your neighbour rather than involve your local authority. Regardless of how the negotiations pan out, these are the steps you need to follow to try and resolve the matter of neighbouring trees.
1. Assess the scale of the tree problem
It's very important to understand that if your natural light is reduced by just one of your neighbour's tree, the council will not pursue the case any further, no matter how tall or overgrown it is. You can ask you neighbour if you can trim the part of the tree that's on your side of the property – legally, you have the right to trim anything on your side of the boundary between properties, but it's best to let them know. Under no circumstances can you go into your neighbour's garden or lean over to prune the tree on their side: this is trespass, and you can be taken to court and fined for this.
If there are two or more trees growing next to each other that are blocking your natural light, your council can get involved, but only after you've tried to resolve the matter yourself. The obvious first step is to have a friendly conversation with your neighbour, explaining the problem (and preferably showing them pictures of how the trees are affecting the natural light inside your property) and offering a reasonable timescale for a solution. It's important to understand when different types of trees may be pruned without damaging them, so suggest that they do the pruning at the correct time of year.
2. Write your neighbour a letter
If your neighbour refuses to trim their trees, you can follow up with a letter. Do this via actual post rather than slipping the letter through their door, because that way you can have proof of postage. Reiterate your request politely and refer to the conversation you've already had, and inform them that you are prepared to take this up with the council. Date and sign the letter.
3. Contact your council
If your neighbour has ignored all your requests and letters, you can involve the council, but only if:
- The hedge consists of two or more trees or shrubs;
- The trees or shrubs are more than 2m tall;
- The trees or shrubs are evergreen or semi-evergreen (this does not apply in Scotland);
- You can prove it's blocking out your light;
- You can prove you've tried to resolve the issue with your neighbour.
A member of the council will then visit the property to investigate. They will want to speak to your neighbour too, to hear both sides of the story, and may wish to measure your garden. There are several factors that will influence their decision, including whether the tree has a Tree Preservation Order, whether it's sheltering a listed building, and whether it is in a conservation area or important to local wildlife.
If they do decide that your neighbour's hedge is blocking out light, they will issue them with a 'remedial notice', or a 'High Hedge Notice' in Scotland, which will outline what needs to be done and the timeframe.
Can the council order my neighbour to remove their hedge?
No. The council cannot order your neighbour to remove their hedge, or order them to do anything that will result in its death or destruction. Also note that they also can't compel them to cut anything down to below 2m tall.
What can I do if the neighbour ignores the council's decision?
It is a criminal offence to refuse to carry out the work requested by the council, and can incur a £1,000 fine. The council can also enter the property to carry out the work themselves and bill the garden's owner.
Can I trim a big tree in my own garden?
If you've just moved into a property, particularly a period home, be careful not to prune or cut down any large trees in your garden before you've established their status with your local council. If the tree comes with a Tree Preservation Order, it is protected, and it is a criminal offence to cut it down or trim it even if you are the landowner. Doing so will carry a hefty fine.