Whose Boundary Is It?
Boundaries between properties are a tricky subject at the best of times as there is not one single law that governs this. As a result, this can be a difficult subject to approach with a neighbour and can cause disputes. Disputes of this nature can lead to legal difficulties, so it is important to check with local councils or solicitors who will advise you on the best course of action. Often it doesn’t need to escalate that far provided both parties are on the same page. Here is a basic breakdown of what you can, and can’t, do.
The Law Regarding Boundaries
Boundaries are officially described as “any structure that separates your property from your neighbour’s, such as a fence, wall or hedge”. There is currently no law regarding who is responsible for each side, however this is usually decided in a boundary agreement based on the land attributed to a property. A boundary agreement is usually set between two parties regarding the position of the boundary or the maintenance as and when it pertains to a hedge.
As an example, neighbours could agree that the middle of the hedge could become a part of the hedge, so each neighbour would be in charge of the maintenance of each side of it.
If your house has been around for a while, it is very possible that there may already be a boundary agreement in place. If you are unsure you should check the deeds to the properties in case there are existing agreements in place.
What This Means In Practice
This means that the responsibilities on the maintenance of the boundaries will be ironed out in the agreement. Following this, an agreement will determine any responsibility for the maintenance of the boundary, whether it is a hedge or a fence.
Once the boundaries have been ironed out, should anything encroach beyond the boundary line onto someone’s property, it will then become the rights of the owner of that side of the boundary as to the course of action. Should a tree overhang into your neighbour’s garden; your neighbour will be well within their rights to trim back any branches that encroach over the boundary line (or in the case of fruit trees, take the fruit as their own). Should the neighbour cut beyond the boundary line however, this counts as destruction of property and is against the law.
How This Relates To Boundary Hedges
There is no law that compels your neighbour to cut their side of the hedge should they not want or be able to. If the boundary is in the middle of the hedge, this will technically be their property so they will not have to trim it if they do not want to. The only exception to this is if the hedge grows too high or if the hedge is in danger of damaging your property. If it is in danger of damaging your property, it will likely be close to your own property; so will be under your jurisdiction. You will, therefore, need to be aware of the regulations.
If a hedge is acting as the boundary, it is a joint responsibility to keep the hedge maintained from either side. However, hedges aren’t always the property of the two residents– at least not in a legal sense. Birds can use hedges throughout the year and it is against the law to “intentionally damage or destroy a wild bird’s nest”, according to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This is also a joint responsibility on both properties and can carry with it some serious penalties. As a result, the RSPB recommends that you both do not use hedge trimmers on hedges that might be housing birds between March and August. There is more about this law on our other blog post found here.
2.Boundary fences when it involves livestock
This may not be common, however, if your neighbour is keeping livestock on their property, it is worthwhile being familiar with the laws. According to the Animals Act of 1971, it is the landowner’s responsibility to fence their livestock. This, however, isn’t proof that the fence belongs to the landowner as you have just as much responsibility to fence your land from your neighbour. The above rules and regulations would therefore still apply.
3.Hedges encroaching on public land
In some circumstances the hedge can overhang on the pavement outside the property. If this is becoming a hindrance or danger to pedestrians, it will be up to you to trim this back, if not a local authority will force you to cut it back, or even remove the hedge. If the hedge causes an obstruction in the road, the highways agency will ask you to trim back the hedge. Should you then refuse, they will be legally allowed to enter the property without permission to do the work, which you will likely be charged for.
4.Height of hedges
There are currently no planning restrictions around the official maximum height of hedges, so it is possible to have a hedge grow as high as you want within reason. Though it is possible that the maximum height is set out in the boundary agreement. There are guidelines however, that state if a hedge is over two meters tall and either blocks the light, obstructs a view or is generally overbearing on a neighbour’s garden, you can complain to the council without involving lawyers. This is classed as anti-social behaviour as set out in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, so the council can then force your neighbour to trim the hedge.
If your neighbour’s hedge is too tall in your opinion, it is not recommended that you do the clipping yourself, unless you have consulted with the council or a solicitor. The UK law protects some hedgerows, so you will need to be 100% certain you can legally trim the hedge to avoid any penalty. In all cases you will need to try to resolve the case with the neighbour before going to the local authority. The local authority may charge you a fee to consider the complaint, so it is worth settling beforehand if possible.
If you have any additional concerns or questions regarding boundary hedges, we recommend you contact your local authority or solicitor for a clear understanding on the laws and regulations.