It is important to note that laws concerning property varies between different councils and certainly different countries. Here are some basic guides to garden law. You should always check with your local council before addressing any of these issues.
Guide to Garden Boundaries
Garden boundaries are usually shared between neighbours. The title deeds to your home will generally show a scale plan of the garden boundary. If the deeds do not specify the boundary, then in the case of walls and fences the law presumes that the owner on the fence side with protruding posts is responsible for repairs. However, this is not necessarily always the case. If in doubt HM Land Registry can advise occupants about their property boundary.
Sometimes boundaries can move over periods of time and end up not following the line marked on the deeds.
Adverse possession, also known as ‘squatter’s rights’, exists in England, Ireland and Wales. If a boundary has been moved and the land has been in a neighbour’s possession for more than 12 years it becomes theirs.
Fences and walls
The upkeep of fences is not generally a shared cost. Even if the deeds state that the boundary is shared you cannot force your neighbour to do maintenance and repair. It is always advisable to enter friendly negotiation and offer to share the work and cost. Unless stated on the deeds there is no legal responsibility for owners to keep their boundaries in good repair. If in doubt, check the deeds to your house. The owner’s boundary line is marked with a `T` and a `H` mark shows that the boundary is shared.
When a hedge separates two gardens it is the responsibility of both neighbours to keep it trimmed. If a hedge is within one neighbours boundary and is growing into the adjoining property, the neighbour has the right to trim the hedge but must return any trimmings to the owner, unless agreed otherwise.
A tree, hedge or shrub belongs to the owner of the land on which it grows. Even if its branches or roots go over or under adjoining land. This includes the branches and the fruit of any tree or shrub and any fallen fruit or branches. Although falling leaves and fruit still belong to the owner of the tree, the owner is not required by garden law to remove any fallen debris. However, if falling leaves block a gutter, which results in water damage, the owner of the tree could be sued for damage.
You are not allowed to go onto your neighbours’ land, lean over it to cut your tree, hedge or shrub.
Right to light
If the light in your garden has been blocked by a neighbour’s tree, you are unable to force them to do anything as there are no laws covering this. However, if those trees are blocking light from a window in your house you can acquire the right to light with the help of your local council.
Weeds and pests
Invading weeds from a neighbours property can be a real source of annoyance and in many cases invasive weeds are not affected by legal obligations. A common solution is to sink a barrier along your boundary line preventing the weeds coming through onto your property. However, if a neglected garden is becoming an increasing nuisance and presents a hazard to animals or environment an order under the Weeds Act of 1959 or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can be served by the Department of the Environment.
Bonfires and incinerators
Each local council has its own garden law guidelines to burning rubbish in the garden. However, Smoke from a bonfire or barbeque can be considered a nuisance and as such can be dealt with under the environmental protection act 1990. Your local Authority will only act if you can show that the nuisance is substantial.
The garden law allows property owners to take reasonable measures to protect their property from flooding. It requires that you use your property in a way that does not increase the risk of flooding to a neighbouring property. Waterside owners who own property near a natural watercourse or river have certain rights riparian rights which entitles a waterside landowner to take reasonable steps to protect his property from flooding.
You are entitled to put up good flood defences such as walls and embankments to safeguard your property, provided that you do not cause harm to other people’s property or land and your defences do not make flooding worse on your neighbour’s land.
Planning restrictions vary widely within different councils and particularly conservation areas. Before going ahead with any plans to build garden structures, including walls, garages, summer houses, gazebos, it is best to contact your local authority planning office to check if you need permission or not.
If you build without permission and break the rules you could be forced to take down the structure.
Structures such as a greenhouse or a small shed are generally classed as ‘permitted development’ and do not need permission.
Conservatories count as an extension and need permission. A wall or fence that is built to over 2m (6ft 6in) high must also have planning permission.
Planning permission is required for any structure in the front garden with the exception of a porch in some cases. If a porch is within 2m of the front boundary, over 3m in height or more than 3m sq in floor area it will need planning permission.
In the rear garden, any structure that is less than 3m in height with a flat roof or 4m if it has a ridge roof, and takes up less that half the area of the garden and is 5m away from the house does not require planning.
Boundaries can be built up to 2m if they are at the back of the garden or if the boundary is at the side. If the boundary fronts a highway of any kind it must not exceed 1m.
It is best to call in a planning officer for any planned garden structure.
For more info about garden laws visit: www.gardenlaw.co.uk