When a tree falls in the UK, the answer to the question of who is responsible for clearing it is often as simple as whoever owns the land that the tree fell on.
However, when it comes to considering additional factors like insurance, property boundaries and local laws, it is easy to see why you can get confused with who is truly responsible not only for the tree but the cost of any damage.
In this article, we will delve into the various aspects of this issue, exploring the responsibilities of homeowners, local authorities, and other parties when it comes to fallen trees.
Who is responsible for falling trees in the UK?
As a general rule, whoever owns the land that the tree was originally on is responsible for clearing the tree if it falls. This means a tenant isn’t liable and nor is anyone who lives in the property, only the landlord.
It is the responsibility of the landlord to routinely visit a property and perhaps include the culling of tree branches or the maintenance of vegetation as part of planned preventative maintenance in a property.
When a tree falls, who should pay to clear it?
When a tree falls, the costs should be covered by whoever is responsible for the tree and this comes down to whoever is responsible for the land. This responsibility therefore comes down to the property landlord.
Nonetheless, it could be the landlord has home insurance that covers this type of event and the insurance could also cover any damage occurring as a result of the tree falling. A landlord should make a claim to find out.
Who is responsible for paying for damages from a fallen tree?
So it is clear that a landlord must pay for the cost of clearing a tree but what about the cost for any damages that happen from the tree landing on neighbouring land?
Well, when a tree from a neighbour’s property causes damage to your own property, you cannot file a claim with their insurance as home insurance only covers your own property. Instead, it is best to make a claim through your own insurance.
However, there is also the option that you can negotiate with your neighbour to pay for your policy excess but there is no law that states that this must be able to happen. An intimidating or noncompliant neighbour could refuse to negotiate at all.
So, you could be stuck with paying your own policy excess which is the amount you have to pay to make a claim and the amount this is should be decided and agreed before the insurance policy is signed for.
What if the tree was owned by the council?
If the tree fell from publicly owned land, you can request the council to remove it and possibly compensate for the damage if it was due to their negligence.
Having said this, like if it was a private landlord who owned the tree, making a claim through your own insurance is a more common option and will get you better results in reclaiming the money for damages.
What if a tree is on the border of two properties?
If a tree was on the border of two properties, there would have to be an agreement between who owns the tree before there can be any discussion around who is responsible for it falling.
Going back to the original plans for the house or looking at how planted the tree or where most of the tree hangs over a property should all give indications of who is responsible.
However, in cases like this it would only be reasonable for neighbours to share the responsibility of the tree damage or the cost of cleaning up the tree if it is clear the tree is between two places.
Nonetheless, it can get difficult to work out how this works if there are a lot of trees on the land of a property and if there are multiple different types of trees that all seem healthy and unlikely to fall down too.
What if the tree was put in place by a tenant?
If a tree was planted by a tenant without a landlord’s permission and then the tree fell down, the tenant could be liable for damages because they could be in breach of their tenancy agreement.
In this case, the landlord would still need to cover the damages but they could end up recovering this money later down the line by bringing the tenant to court or making a claim to their insurance.
A tenant has no rights to plant trees if there is no permission by the landlord and a relevant property inventory of the garden should be taken so it is clear if a tree was added to a property or not.
How landlords can cut down a tree safely
A landlord can cut down a tree safely by first ensuring that non one is nearby before they attempt to cut it down. Whether a landlord has professional help to cut down the tree or not, there should be no one near falling branches.
In addition, a tree can be cut down in chunks if it is particularly large by following the below steps:
- Planning where to cut with spray paint
- Cutting down any secondary branches first
- Cutting a notch in the main branch in the direction you want the tree to fall
- Cutting a notch
- Clearing the area
- Cleaning up the fallen timber
This is something a landlord can do by themself. However, hiring a woodcutter is also an option for those who want to stay safe and hand the job over to someone who cuts down trees for a living.
Does home insurance cover damage from falling trees?
It depends on the terms of the insurance but in general , yes, home insurance will cover falling tree damage. As long as the landlord is able to submit the right evidence and show the tree fell unexpectedly.
Any neglect on behalf of a landlord or a tenant such as cutting down a tree unsafely or claiming other damage on a property and blaming it on the tree will usually not be accepted.
A landlord should understand this in detail and only submit a claim to insurance if they think they have a good chance at winning their case. This is because a landlord must pay a policy excess fee in order to make a claim.
What this fee is depends on the insurance agreement they signed for at the beginning of their contract.
What if the tree falls completely unexpectedly?
Unfortunately, there are unexpected events during the running of a property business that happen all the time. Especially when it comes to naturally occurring disasters.
If a landlord has no relevant insurance to cover a tree falling in an event like this then the landlord must accept responsibility for the damage or the costs of damage and take it as a lesson.
Perhaps they can prevent such damage in the future by cutting down large trees before they fall or ask a neighbour to claim the responsibility for any trees they think they don’t own before legal issues arise.
When a tree falls, who should clear it?
So, we have established that if a tree falls it is the responsibility of whoever had the tree on their property at the time of the tree falling but what about cleaning the tree? Who should be responsible then?
Can I cut a branch that is overhanging on my property?
Yes, any branches of a tree that is overhanging onto your own property or a shared space of your property a landowner has the right to remove. However, cutting down anything that is not part of your own land is illegal.
If any damage occurs as a result of your actions cutting down a tree that starts in a neighbouring property and ends up in your own (perhaps by damaging a fence), you will be liable for the damages.
What is the boundary between two properties?
The boundary between two properties should be established in the architectural documents and formal plans that come with a property upon purchase.
Who is responsible for smaller plants falling?
If vegetation is falling into a property and it is causing trouble or general litter in a property, it is within your rights to complain to the landlord of the property with falling vegetation within reason.
Having said this, one must be reasonable and understand that the falling of leaves and the natural breakdown of plants is something that happens in general throughout the seasons.
Can you cross a boundary to clear a tree?
Under the law, it is illegal to cross a boundary in order to clear a tree. In fact, it is sometimes seen as unjust to clear any branches of a tree that is your own land without permission from the landowner first.
This is because the person who is cutting down a branch on their own land should ask the landowner if they want the limbs from the tree returned to them.
However, if the person who wants to cut down the branch gains permission, then it is possible for them to enter land they don’t own and trespass in order to cut down a tree.
Asking beforehand is always advised in order to prevent disputes and make sure the owner of a property is respected as most people will not have an issue with cutting down branches that are overhanging your own property anyway.
Why does a tree fall?
Some common reasons for a tree falling naturally include:
- Poor previous work
- Natural end of life
- Pests in the tree
- Flooding in the property
- Anaerobic soil
In cases where this happens, no one is necessarily to blame for the falling of a tree but regardless, it is the landlord’s responsibility if they own the land the tree is on. Regular maintenance of trees and inspections of vegetation can be done to prevent this.
What should you do if a tree is blocking the light in a property?
The first thing you should do if you find you’re not able to have the right amount of sunlight is to ask your neighbour to cut down the tree blocking the light.
If this doesn’t work, you can also issue a high hedge notice which can be found here which is where the council will assess whether remedial action should be enforced. It is a right to have a certain amount of sunlight in a property.
Can you be sued for damages if you don’t clear a tree?
If it is clear that a landlord should clear a tree and they don’t then whoever has received the damages as a result of the tree falling is able to sue the landlord for not clearing the tree they’re responsible for.
Worse yet, if a tenant is unsafe in their own home because a landlord didn’t clear the tree the property has fallen in and the landlord left it to the responsibility of a tenant, they are also able to be sued as they’re in breach of the tenancy agreement.
This should be made clear as part of the how to rent which should be issued to tenants at the start of their tenancy as part of tenant management and no matter how much notice a landlord gives, they cannot just evict a tenant to escape the responsibility of clearing trees.
Wrapping things up
In conclusion, determining who is responsible for fallen trees in the UK is usually down to whoever owns the land that the tree is on.
This article has aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of the various aspects of this issue, giving readers a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to fallen trees.
There are a fair few options available to dispute your responsibility for the ownership of a tree and it is recommended to take advantage of any insurance policies you have in place to help reduce costs.