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26 June 2014

The root of the problem for warring neighbours

We’re all familiar with stories of neighbours going to war over the infamous quick-growing Leylandii trees, but deep underground there’s often a more sinister threat.  The damage that tree roots can do to neighbouring properties can result in a hefty bill, as one North London woman found out recently.

She was ordered to pay a hefty £17,000 in damages to her neighbours after the spreading roots of her “dominating” cypress hedge caused damage to the foundations of their home.

The case was a reminder that homeowners have a responsibility to ensure that they do not damage their neighbours’ properties, and this includes a legal duty to keep their garden trees and shrubs under control.

The couple who lived next door to the woman had brought a claim for damages after they discovered cracks in the exterior and interior walls of their property.  The Technology and Construction Court found expert evidence had established the cypress trees were a significant cause of the subsidence damage and that a “reasonably prudent landowner” would have appreciated the real risk posed by the roots.

Given the “dominating position” of the hedge – described as “not an attractive feature” – the damage to the couple’s home was “reasonably foreseeable”. Finding the woman liable in nuisance, the Court found that it would only have cost between £700 and £800 to remove the hedge and that the woman had failed to take appropriate steps to eliminate the obvious risk.

However, the Court went on to rule that damage caused by a 50-year-old oak tree on the woman’s land had not been reasonably foreseeable, and lopped 15 per cent off the couple’s compensation to reflect their contributory negligence in failing to complain to their neighbour earlier.

The Court awarded the couple damages for the cost of expert advice, surveys and remedial work, and for the distress and inconvenience caused by the tree roots damage. The total award came to £17,269, after the 15 per cent reduction.

Property litigation lawyer Sarah McLoughlin, said: “This case is a timely reminder that while we all may love our gardens, we do have to be mindful of the need to ensure our neighbours’ property isn’t damaged by our failure to take control of our trees and shrubs.  A weeping willow or a silver birch may look lovely, but it could prove to be very expensive if not properly maintained and managed.”

If you are concerned about possible damage to your property owing to a neighbour’s plants or activities, call us on 01753 279035 or email disputes@bpcollins.co.uk

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Email: enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk

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