Good neighbourship is not just limited to being friendly or keeping noise down, it also includes keeping on top of your garden. Sadly, your trees and hedges could become a point of contention with your neighbours and vice versa. Or at least if you don’t regularly maintain them, that is.
Whether it’s a case of an overgrown hedge or overhanging branches, you and your neighbour may come to a disagreement about who is responsible and/or how to solve the issue. Such disputes can quickly become ugly if not handled properly on either end. So, if you or your tenant needs to resolve a garden dispute with a neighbour, what steps should you take?
It’s in the best interest of both you, your tenant and your neighbour to approach them first with any concerns you have. Even if you or your tenant is not on good terms with them, your neighbour is more likely to cooperate if you go to them first.
For those who don’t feel comfortable discussing such matters face-to-face, then a simple email, phone call or text could work. Not to mention, written evidence may come in handy if you have to escalate the dispute. Whichever option you choose, be polite in the delivery of your concerns - they will still be neighbouring your property. If your neighbour is a tenant, it may be easier to address the issue with their landlord instead.
Before you approach the neighbour, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, you and your tenant need to be certain about the issue so that there is no confusion when talking to the neighbour. Not only is it good to be clear on your concern, but also to clearly communicate how it affects you.
For instance, if your issue is a tall tree, you need to be clear on why it needs sorting. Perhaps, your neighbour's tree is blocking sunlight, forcing your tenants to leave the lights on for longer. Or perhaps, a tall hedge is affecting the growth of your tenants’ plants. When you are clear on the problem and its resulting effect, you then need to offer an actionable solution. This could be something as simple as keeping the hedge below 2m.
Now that you are more confident about what to say, it’s time to speak to the neighbour.
It might be better to invite the neighbour into your tenants’ garden or home so they can see the issue closeup. Furthermore, seeing things from your tenants’ side of the fence or hedge could speed up the time it takes to come to a resolution. This proposal, however, may be uncomfortable for some. If this is the case, a simple conversation outside or email with photographic evidence could also work.
Remember, this is not a confrontation - it’s a discussion. Give the neighbours time to think the situation over and allow them the opportunity to voice any concerns or queries. Hopefully, by following these steps you should be able to quickly come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
Sometimes coming to an agreement is impossible, but this doesn’t mean you are out of options. In the event that neither you or your tenant are able to communicate with the neighbour, a third party may be able to help.
Independent mediators offer a neutral perspective to aid you, your tenant and your neighbour in reaching a resolution. Though, note that in order for this to be a success all parties need to cooperate with the mediator. Mediators will typically meet with you and your tenant and then the neighbour separately, assess the situation and then bring you all together. During this discussion, the mediator is only present to enforce ground rules - the rest is up to you.
If you are able to come to mutual agreement, it’s good to get it down in writing. Additionally, this document should state who is responsible for completing the action (i.e. you as the landlord, the tenant or the neighbour), how and when you will check the agreement has been met, and how you will communicate any problems in the future.
Mediation isn’t always effective and, in rare cases, can even make things worse. So, matters may have to be taken into your own hands.
In the case of an overhanging tree, you are allowed to trim branches on your tenant’s side of the boundary. Though it is advisable to check that the tree isn’t protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) before doing so. If this is the case, you will need permission from the council before trimming it. Also, inform the neighbour before discarding branches as they legally belong to them.
If mediation fails and you are unable to solve the matter yourself, contacting the council is your last resort. Note, however, that the council may not proceed with your complaint for any of several reasons. Chief among those is they do not believe you or your tenant have taken all the reasonable steps to resolve the matter informally. For example, if the neighbour is also a tenant, you may need to speak with their landlord before contacting the council.
Moreover, it is wise to check your local council’s website before submitting a complaint. This will save you time if the council is not likely to proceed with your complaint. As we mentioned earlier, letters and emails exchanged between you, your tenant and the neighbour may come in handy at this stage. If you conduct your meetings face-to-face, noting down the outcomes of meetings is a good idea. These may be used as evidence to show the council that you have taken all the necessary steps before complaining.
Finally, it is polite to inform the neighbour in question of your decision to involve the council. This can be done through a simple written letter so your neighbour is not blindsided by your decision. If you’re unhappy with the council’s response, contacting a solicitor may be a good option for further support.