By Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey
Q: My neighbour’s tree overhangs into my garden; what are my rights? Can I trim the branches?
A: If a neighbour’s tree hangs over an adjoining property, the tree owner should be asked to trim back the tree. If this is not done, the complainant has the right to trim the tree back to the boundary line (but see Tree preservation orders below) although any branches and/or fruit removed belong to the tree’s owner and should be given back to the owner or disposed of with the owner’s consent.
An overhanging tree may also be a danger. For example, most parts of a yew tree are poisonous. If any damage or injury is caused, the tree owner will be liable to pay compensation if a person affected brings a claim for damages.
In Northern Ireland, local councils only have powers to make a dangerous tree on private property safe if it is overhanging a public footpath or road. If a dangerous tree is overhanging a neighbour’s property, you will have to try and come to an agreement with the tree’s owner. You could also think about going to mediation or, as a last resort, taking legal action against your neighbour.
• Tree preservation orders - If you wish to prevent a tree being lopped by your neighbour, you could contact the divisional planning office to see if they will place a tree preservation order on it. All trees in an area designated as a Conservation Area are automatically protected.
• Hedges - If your neighbour’s hedge affects the light reaching your residential property, you can make a formal complaint to your local council. The hedge must be evergreen or semi-evergreen and over two metres high. You must try to resolve the complaint with your neighbour before going to the council and you may be charged a substantial fee by your council for investigating the complaint.
How to deal with a neighbour dispute...
• Approach the neighbour - A complaint should first be made to the neighbour. If it seems that one or both parties will be unable to keep their temper during such a meeting, it may be advisable to write.
• Try mediation - If an initial approach to the neighbour has failed, there may be local mediators who are able to help.
Mediation Northern Ireland is free and confidential. It can put neighbours in touch with a trained mediator in their area. The contact details of Mediation Northern Ireland are Tel: 028 9043 8614, website: www.mediationnorthernireland.org
• Contact the landlord - If the offending neighbour is a tenant and refuses to co-operate when approached directly, it may be appropriate to contact the landlord.
• Contact the local council - In cases where neighbours may be breaching public health, high hedges or pollution laws, the local council may be approached. This avenue may incur charges.
• Consult a solicitor - A letter from a solicitor may be helpful in making a neighbour realise that you are serious about your complaint. It may be particularly effective in making tenants realise that the next stage might be eviction by their landlord. It may also be necessary when, for example, there is genuine disagreement as to who is responsible.
• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at firstname.lastname@example.org