Homeowners have a responsibility to ensure that they do not damage their neighbours’ properties and this includes a legal duty to keep their garden trees and shrubs under control.
When a North London woman ignored her responsibilities in this regard, the result was an order by the court to pay more than £17,000 in damages to her neighbours after the spreading roots of her ‘dominating’ cypress hedge caused damage to the foundations of their home.
The couple who lived next door brought a claim for damages against the woman after they discovered cracks in the exterior and interior walls of their property.
The Technology and Construction Court found that expert evidence had established that the cypress trees were a significant cause of the subsidence damage and that a ‘reasonably prudent landowner’ would have appreciated the real risk posed by the trees’ roots.
Given the ‘dominating position’ of the hedge – described as ‘not an attractive feature’ – the damage to the couple’s home was ‘reasonably foreseeable’. Finding the woman liable in nuisance, the Court found that it would only have cost between £700 and £800 to remove the hedge and that the woman had failed to take appropriate steps to eliminate the obvious risk.
However, the Court went on to rule that damage caused by a 50-year-old oak tree on the woman’s land had not been reasonably foreseeable, and lopped 15 per cent off the couple’s compensation to reflect their contributory negligence in failing to complain to their neighbour earlier. The Court awarded the couple damages for the cost of expert advice, surveys and remedial work, and for the distress and inconvenience caused by the tree roots damage. The total award came to £17,269, after the 15 per cent reduction.