Have you ever heard the expression: “Good fences make good neighbours?” This proverb, made famous in a Robert Frost poem, refers to the need for separation between households to prevent quarrels and maintain respect.
After all, you want your neighbours to respect your garden space – when you’re reclining on a chaise or canoodling on a jack and jill seat, the last thing you want is a branch falling on your head, or your sunlight wholly blocked!
Our gardens are our private sanctuaries – natural escapes filled with the plants and foliage of our choosing. We have the ultimate control over what goes in our garden – to a point. At our property’s edges, we have to respect the laws around trees and garden boundaries.
Sadly, boundary disputes between neighbours are common across the country. People quibble over the actual location of the border, as well as disagreeing about where the responsibility for maintenance lies. Is it your responsibility to trim a border hedge or prune a tree, or your neighbour’s?
The UK is home to many ancient properties, which often come with ancient rules and traditions. This can make the rules around properties complex and hard to parse. Some old bylaws are grandfathered in, while public right of way has been mandated in more recent times.
When you’re planning to erect a new fence or plant new trees along your property’s borders, you need to be clear on these laws. That often means going back to the original deeds, which can be easier said than done when it comes to 16th-century properties. You need to ensure that you have not encroached on your neighbour’s property over the years, and vice versa. You may need to get a properties expert, or a specialist solicitor involved.
The most important part of the garden fence law is regarding who can change or paint an existing fence. The answer is clear – only the fence’s owner is permitted to alter the fence in any way. While this may seem counterintuitive, you are not allowed to paint or stain the side of the fence that faces your garden without prior permission. You are also forbidden from allowing climbing plants to grow upon it without permission, as they can cause damage to the structure.
On the other hand, if you are the owner of the fence, you must keep your fence in good condition, and make sure it doesn’t cause any danger to your neighbours. If you’re erecting the fence on your side of the property line, it’s always a good idea to be courteous and let your neighbours know in advance. Although you don’t need their ‘permission,’ it’s a kind gesture that will go a long way. We recommend that you allow them to stain or paint their side of the fence; again, you don’t have to do this, but it could ease any tensions. Finally, clear the date of construction with your neighbours in advance. This will prevent you from scheduling construction when they have a special party or event planned!
Even when you follow all of these tips and alert your neighbours about your new fence, disputes can still occur. Before you decide to take the matter to court, try to resolve the issues with your neighbour. If you can come to an amicable agreement, you can let the Land Registry know the outcome (or save some money with an informal agreement without involving the LR office).
According to the Rights of Light Act 1959, if a property “has received daylight for the last 20 years (the minimum prescribed period), they may be entitled to continue to receive that light.”
The ‘right to light’ gives property owners and residents that right to the light that streams into the ‘defined apertures’ in their house and other buildings. As a landowner, you must abide by this easement – you may not build a structure that will block the light into your neighbour’s windows.
While this might frustrate you or hinder your renovation plans, just remember that the right to light benefits you, too. It protects the value of your investment and ensures that your home won’t be shrouded in darkness on a neighbour’s whim.
While you can complain about your neighbour’s garden, you do need to try to settle the issue first before the Council can get involved. Remember, you may have to pay a fee to file this complaint.
Once you have tried to reach an amicable agreement, you can access a complaint form if:
You are legally permitted to trim your neighbour’s trees or hedges if the branches or roots cross into your property from the street or an adjacent party. You may only trim the foliage up to your property’s boundary – if you trim more, you could face legal action. In certain conservation areas, you may need the Council’s permission to trim branches and roots, even if they cross over your property line.
There are no restrictions regarding what you can and cannot plant in your garden, other than illegal drugs such as marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms. You have the right to plant whatever you want anywhere on your property. That said, you should consider the future implications of planting a large hedge or tree close to your property line, as it may impact your neighbour’s right to light. For creeping plants that will grow up and over your side of a neighbour’s fence, you must ask permission from the owner of the fence, which will likely be graciously given.
According to Admiral Insurance, most home insurance plans cover damage caused by branches or falling trees. However, if the damage occurs during maintenance or work by a tree surgeon, you will not be covered.
There you have it – the common laws around trees and garden boundaries. By following these rules and tips, you’ll have good fences, and good neighbours.
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Lawsons (2018). Fencing and the Law – Know Your Rights Before Choosing New Fencing | Fencing Blogs | Lawsons. [online] www.lawsons.co.uk. Available at: https://www.lawsons.co.uk/blog/fencing/fencing-and-the-law-know-your-rights-before-choosing-new-fencing [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].
McNulty, F. (2017). Can I ask our neighbours to remove a fence built on our land? [online] Homes and Property. Available at: https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/legal-qa/can-i-ask-our-neighbours-to-remove-a-fence-built-on-our-land-while-we-were-away-a112971.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].
Royal Horticultural Society (2020). Trees and the law. [online] www.rhs.org.uk. Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=1022 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].
Taylor, A. (2020). Establishing Rights Over Fences & Boundaries. [online] www.problemneighbours.co.uk. Available at: http://www.problemneighbours.co.uk/rights-over-fences-and-boundaries.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.