Legal implications of removing encroaching tree roots
A tree belongs to the person who owns the land on which it grows. However, where the roots of a tree encroach on land owned or occupied by you, you are entitled to chop back the roots to the boundary line. You do not need to obtain the tree owner’s permission before removing encroaching tree roots, although if you do intend to do this, you should inform the tree owner before doing so. It may also be sensible to involve your insurers or the insurers of the owner of the tree.
If you do intend to remove encroaching tree roots you should bear in mind the following matters:
The possibility that you may commit a trespass
If you remove tree roots beyond the boundary line without your neighbour’s permission, you will commit a trespass and a claim for trespass could be pursued against you through the courts.
If you are in any doubt as to where exactly the boundary lies you should, therefore, obtain legal advice.
The possibility that you may damage the tree
If by removing the tree roots you harm the tree, the owner of the tree could bring a claim against you for trespass and you might have to pay damages. You should not put poison down to kill off the encroaching tree roots as poison is likely to kill the tree. It may also be worth exploring other options than removing the tree roots, such as the installation of a root barrier, to lessen the chance of damage to the tree.
If you intend to remove a lot of tree roots or very large tree roots, or if the roots are very deeply rooted, consider employing a tree surgeon or arborist to carry out the work for you. Normally they will be insured against any such damage, although you should check that they are before taking them on.
The possibility that you will cause damage to property or injure a person as a result of removing the tree roots
If your action results in the tree damaging property or injuring someone, the property owner or the person hurt may claim damages from you.
This is another good reason, if you intend to remove a lot of tree roots or very large tree roots, or if the roots are deeply rooted, for employing a tree surgeon or arborist to carry out the work for you. Again, you should check that they are insured against any damage, loss or injury sustained, before employing them.
The possibility that the tree may be the subject of a tree preservation order
If the tree is the subject of a tree preservation order or in a conservation area, you may need to obtain permission from your local planning authority before carrying out work.
If you contravene a tree preservation order or carry out work on a tree situated in a conservation area you could be prosecuted and, if found guilty, fined.
Ownership of the tree roots once they have been removed
The owner of the land on which the tree grows remains the owner of the tree roots even after they have been removed. You should therefore return the roots to the owner of the tree or obtain their consent for disposal. If you fail to do so, your action will amount to theft.
If you intend to remove tree roots, ask the owner of the tree what they would like you to do with them once they have been removed: simply throwing them back into their garden could constitute flytipping. If you can’t speak to the owner of the tree, write to them explaining that you will dispose of the tree roots within a specified period of time if they don’t get back to you confirming that they would like them returned.
Notifying the owner of the tree of possible damage to your property
If you’re worried that the tree roots are causing damage to your property you should notify the owner of the tree of your concerns: it’s worth nothing that the owner of a tree will not be liable for any damage caused by its roots if they have not been given notice of the damage being caused.
Notifying your insurers of possible damage to your property
If you believe the tree is causing damage to your property, contact your insurers before carrying out any work. It is in their interest to get involved before any further damage is caused and for this reason they will probably arrange and pay for the work to be carried out.