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If a neighbour's hedge or trees are blocking light in your home

This advice applies to Scotland

Follow our advice if a neighbour's hedge or trees are blocking light to your home. 

You should try first to agree what to do with your neighbour but if that doesn't work you might be able to apply for a High Hedge Notice from the council. The Notice requires the neighbour to cut the tree or hedge back. 

The council can't make orders about tree or hedge roots, only the foliage. If the roots of a neighbouring tree or hedge are affecting your garden you should follow our advice about solving neighbour disputes generally.

Step 1: Try to reach an agreement with your neighbour

Before you apply to the council you should try to settle the dispute by asking your neighbour to cut back the hedge or trees. The council's unlikely to accept your application for a High Hedge Notice unless you've tried to negotiate first.  

Sometimes a neighbour doesn't understand what impact their hedge/trees have on your home and garden. Equally you may not understand their need for privacy and not being overlooked. You should try to reach a compromise.

If your neighbour owns the home you should speak to them directly but if they rent you'll need to speak to both them and their landlord.

Try speaking to them first, if you feel safe and comfortable doing that. Make a note of the date and time you spoke and what you both said. You should explain:

  • the impact on you - for example, your living room isn't getting any natural light so you can't enjoy it
  • the reasonable action you'd like them to take - for example, to cut the tree or hedge back
  • when you'd like them to take action by
  • any action you'll take - if there are overhanging branches on your side of the fence or wall you can cut them back but you should let the neighbour know and should return the branches that you've cut off.

It's important to think carefully about what action you ask them to take and how quickly you ask them to do it. They're more likely to agree if your request is reasonable.

Think about:

  • how much you're asking them to cut it back - it should only be what's needed to let light into your home
  • how capable they are - for example, older neighbours might have to employ someone to cut it back so it might take longer
  • the type of trees or hedge - for example, will it be damaged, how often will they need to maintain it and when is the best time to cut it back.

If you're worried about trying to negotiate with your neighbour because of verbal abuse or harassment you can ask your local authority to deal with antisocial behaviour.  

If you reach an agreement, put it in writing and ask them to sign it. This means if they don't do it you have a record of it later. 

If you can't reach an agreement

If you haven't reached an agreement by speaking with them, you should put your request in writing. This might persuade them to take action and you'll have evidence that you've tried to reach an agreement. You could send a letter or an email. If you're sending a letter, get free proof of postage. 

If your neighbour owns the home you should write to them directly but if they rent you'll need to write to both them and their landlord.

Include:

  • details of any past conversations
  • the date you're sending your request
  • addresses - your address and your neighbours
  • pictures of the tree or hedge that's blocking light in your property
  • the impact on you
  • the reasonable action you'd like them to take
  • when you'd like a reply - 14 days is reasonable.

Example

15th February 2019

RE 5 Home Street and 7 Home Street

Dear Jeff, 

We spoke on the 6th of February about the clump of 5 pine trees in your garden at no. 5 Home Street adjacent to my living room at no. 7 Home Street.

I explained that because of their height (I estimate 15 feet) and where they're planted, they're blocking any light coming through my living room windows. I wasn't able to enjoy my living room this past Summer because it was dark and cold. I've attached pictures of my living room - you can clearly see the trees through the window. They block the light, especially when the sun is highest. 

I'd like you to cut them back by 4 feet to allow light into my living room. This will still give you privacy in your living room. I understand that Spring is the best time to cut back pines to prevent damage so I'd like you to do this by mid-April. On the 6th you said you're not prepared to do this but I would ask that you reconsider. I'd like to reach an agreement about this so that we can both enjoy our homes.

I'm prepared to take further action if needed. 

Please reply by 1st March. You can email me at ********

Kind regards, 

Jenny

If you need help writing a letter, speak to an adviser at your local Citizens Advice Bureau

If they still refuse or don't reply you should check whether you can apply for a High Hedge Notice. 

Get help from a mediator 

You could get help from a mediator to reach an agreement. Some local authorities provide a mediation service. There may also be a mediation service run by SACRO in your area. Further details are on the SACRO website.

Step 2: Check whether you can apply for a High Hedge Notice

A High Hedge Notice orders the owner of the trees or hedge to cut them back. It may also give instructions about regular maintenance to prevent the problem happening again.

You have to apply for a Notice and the council will only grant one if the right circumstances apply. 

You'll be able to apply to the council for a High Hedge Notice if the hedge is:

  • big enough to qualify - two or more trees or shrubs and two or more metres above ground level. One large tree won't usually qualify and you can't enter your neighbour's property to measure the height of the hedge. You'll need to estimate it from your side
  • blocking out light in your property - even if the trees lose their leaves in autumn if the overall effect is to block out light, then the local authority may agree that it fits the definition.

If the tree or hedge blocking light isn't next door

Even if a high hedge blocks light to properties which are not next door to the ground in which it's growing, the owners of these properties can still complain about the impact on them and may want to apply for a High Hedge Notice.

Step 3: Apply for a High Hedge Notice

Each council runs its own High Hedge Notice application scheme. Check the website of your local authority for guidance on how to apply. Some local authorities will have an online form. 

Each council runs its own scheme but there's national guidance available on the Scottish Government website

To apply you should contact your council. Find your council on the gov.scot website

When you apply you should provide evidence that you've tried to resolve the problem with the high hedge owner, like records of conversations or copies of letters you've sent them. Some local authorities may make mediation a requirement before accepting an application for a High Hedge Notice. 

There's usually a fee to apply. Each local authority may charge different fees for different types of application. For example, if the high hedge is protected or is very large then experts may need to be called in to assess the situation. This could affect the fee.

When a number of neighbours are affected by a high hedge on only one property, each may have to apply for a High Hedge Notice for the section of the hedge that affects them.

Step 4: Council decides whether to investigate your application

Before it will investigate the council will make sure that your application is valid. 

The council will check that:

  • the hedge is two or more trees or shrubs, and
  • you're claiming that it's blocking out light, and
  • you've tried to resolve the problem with the owner of the hedge.

If one of these elements is missing the council is likely to dismiss your application. For example if you submit an application for only one tree.

Some trees are protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or because they're in a conservation area. If a tree has a TPO in place to protect it, or it's in a conservation area, the council has to take account of this in its assessment. If it issues a High Hedge Notice, the notice will override the TPO. 

If your application is accepted, the council will then go on to investigate and decide whether to grant a High Hedge Notice. 

If your application is rejected

If your application is rejected there's no appeal to the local authority. You can:

You will usually need help to do this. You could consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer

Step 5: Council investigates and makes a decision

If your application is accepted the local authority will start an investigation. You and the owner of the hedge will get a letter explaining the investigation procedure. You'll each have 28 days to make comments and explain the situation in more detail.

In your reply to the council you should include:

  • big enough to qualify - two or more trees or shrubs and two or more metres above ground level. One large tree won't usually qualify and you can't enter your neighbour's property to measure the height of the hedge. You'll need to estimate it from your side
  • blocking out light in your property - even if the trees lose their leaves in autumn if the overall effect is to block out light, then the local authority may agree that it fits the definition.

Someone from the council will usually visit you to see the hedge and how it affects your property. You may want to try to organise this visit for a time when it is clear how the hedge is blocking out light. 

The council can decide to grant a high hedge notice or not. Even if the hedge is blocking light there may be other factors that mean the council doesn't issue a High Hedge Notice, for example:

  • if trees are sheltering listed buildings
  • Tree Preservation Orders
  • endangered wildlife.

Example

Two three-metre-tall trees in Mr Pott's garden have been blocking light to Miss Cairn's flat for many years. On the other side of the trees other flats are sheltered from extreme weather by the trees and they are all listed buildings.

The council decides that the needs of the listed buildings are greater than the one occupier affected by light being blocked. Miss Cairn could appeal and may have to say why her need is greater than the neighbours in the listed buildings.

The owner must comply with the notice by the date stated on it. There's action you can take if they don't

How to appeal against the council's decision

You can appeal against a council's decision to issue or not to issue a High Hedge Notice, to withdraw a Notice or vary it. You must appeal within 28 days of being advised about the local authority decision.

It's possible for any parties affected by the decision to appeal against the decision. 

Before making an appeal you should make sure you understand the reasons behind the decision the local authority has taken. You'll need to provide arguments against these reasons.

You should complete a high hedges appeal form which is on the eplanning website or by phoning 01324 696400. You'll need to create an online account. 

There is information on the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) website about submitting an online appeal.

The appeal process

Your appeal will be dealt with by an official called a Reporter. 

All the parties involved play an equal role in the appeal. In most cases this will be the applicant, hedge owner, and the local authority. Information provided by any party is copied to all the others and the reporter is likely to communicate in writing about what will happen next.

Those involved who didn't call for the appeal have 21 days to make their comments. The person making the appeal then has another 14 days to respond to these comments. 

Decisions that can be made about an appeal

The Reporter can decide that the notice should:

  • stand as it was issued
  • be taken away
  • be changed - for example, change the date the notice comes into force.

You can't appeal to the council against the decision of the Reporter. However the decision can be looked at under a process called judicial review when a sheriff can look into how the decision was made by the local authority.

There is no appeal if an application is dismissed but you can:

Judicial review has to take place in court. It's a review by a judge of the decision taken by the local authority and whether the decision was made in the right way based on the law. It could be both time-consuming and expensive so you'll need to decide whether the issue you have with the hedge is worth a judicial review application. An application has to be made within three months of the decision made by the local authority.

You will usually need help to do this. You could consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer

If the high hedge owner doesn't follow the High Hedge Notice

Once issued, a High Hedge Notice is binding on the current owner and subsequent owners.

A High Hedge Notice takes effect 28 days after it's issued. This gives the hedge owner time to take the action required or to appeal if they want to.

If they don't take any action, you should contact the council and tell them the Notice hasn't been followed. Under section 22 of the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 the local authority can organise for someone else to enter the land and deal with the high hedge. They'll give the hedge owner 14 days notice.

Anyone who refuses to allow entry to the land will be committing a criminal offence and could be fined up to £1,000. This includes the owner of the land. The council can apply to the court for a warrant to enter the land. 

The council will send the bill for the work to the owner of the high hedge. 

What happens if the bill isn’t paid

If the owner doesn't pay the bill for the work the local authority will issue warning letters and attempt to get the owner to pay. Ultimately the council can register the debt against the property. This is called a Notice of Liability for Expenses. Administrative costs and interest will be added to this debt as long as it remains unpaid.

The current owner of the land is liable for the debt. If the land is owned by more than one person, they are jointly and severally liable for the debt. This means the other is liable for all the money owed if one doesn't pay. The council can chase each for part or all of the money. 

If the property is sold before the bill is paid the incoming owner becomes severally liable for the debt as long as the Notice of Liability has been registered at least 14 days beforehand. The financial burden of this on the new owner may be negotiated between the solicitors involved in buying the property.

If the new owner pays the debt on the property, action can be taken to recover the sum from the previous owner who continues to be jointly and severally liable for it. More about taking action about a debt.

Once the bill is paid the local authority has to register a 'Notice of Discharge' on the property register to show that the debt has been paid.

If the high hedge owner removes hedge completely

If a decision is taken by a high hedge owner to remove it completely it should let the local authority know this as the High Hedge Notice can be withdrawn from that address.

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