LAWLINK: Tree trouble

Q: I live in a quiet residential part of Limerick. My next-door neighbour moved in about six years ago. The previous owner had taken good care of the place, but the new owner has let things drift. The trees have grown so tall they block the light to the back of my property.

I can no longer sit out the back of my home in the summer and enjoy the sunshine. I am worried that branches will shed leaves into my garden causing a hazard. If the branches or tree were to fall into my garden they would most likely damage my garden shed. Is there anything that can be done?

A: The first thing that should be done is to discuss this matter with your neighbour. They may not be aware that the tree is affecting you so much. Issues such as this are always best resolved between neighbours, if at all possible.

If any of the branches of the offending tree are overhanging into your property, you are entitled to trim them back to the property line, but no more.

You should be careful that no damage is done to the tree, and that you give the wood back to your neighbour. In order to avoid inadvertent damage to the tree, you should consider consulting a professional tree surgeon.  You would be liable for any damage done to the tree and these sums can be substantial.

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As regards interference with the right to light the back of your property, you can only claim a right to light if it falls on ‘apertures’ to your home – i.e. light that falls on doors and windows. It cannot cover light that falls on your back wall or on your garden or patio only.

You also need to show that you have enjoyed the light for 20 years. If you do satisfy these requirements, you should be entitled to obtain a formal legal right (known as an ‘easement’).

You may be entitled also to seek a ‘works order’ under Section 45 of the Land Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 to reduce the height of the trees.

As regards leaves, it is the responsibility of you as property owner to ensure safety. Leaf fall is considered to be a natural event, the owner of the tree is not a factor.

As regards the potential damage that might be caused if the tree were to fall, it is the responsibility of your neighbour to ensure safety. However, the position would be less clear if the tree were to fall during a storm, as this would usually be considered a natural event.

You should try and resolve matters with your neighbour at first instance, and only then contact your solicitor. They can guide you through the required steps and if necessary write to your neighbour.