Is Your Garden Legally Safe?

As a home owner you have certain obligations concerning your garden. Boundaries, trees and the holding and disposing of toxins are the main legal aspects of having a garden. What’s allowed and what isn’t? What should you know?

Boundaries, Ownership and Responsibilities

When you buy your house you should ask for your title deeds, if you don’t have them copies can be purchased at HM Land Registry. You can also ask for anyone else’s deeds if you are unsure as to who owns what. Title deeds show you a general indication of your boundaries.

If the deeds don’t give an indication of boundary ownership, the law presumes that the owner on one side (usually the left) owns and is responsible for the upkeep of the fence. As for a wall, the law assumes that the boundary falls on the wall’s outer face of the owner who put it up.

Talk to Neighbours to Avoid Boundary Problems

If you are considering buying a property but are not happy with your neighbour’s wall or fence, bear in mind that he might have reached an agreement with the previous owner as to where he could build it. The best thing to do is to take pictures if you decide to move in, in case anything changes, you will be able to spot it straight away.

If you plan to put up a new fence or hedge, talk to your neighbour and come to an agreement as to what you can build and where. With fences, make sure the posts are firmly on your land and that the face of the fence points to your neighbour. With hedges, plant well within your boundaries to allow for growth and keep them trimmed.

Serious boundary disputes can go as far as a civil suit to determine where the boundary line lays and to issue an order to that effect. This is a last resort due to the costs involved.

Disputes Over Trees

Trees probably cause the most friction between neighbours, whether it’s overhanging branches or wandering roots.

A tree or a shrub belongs to the house owner on whose land it grows. Even if the branches or roots encroach onto neighbouring land they belong to the owner of the tree. This applies to fallen fruit; if fruit from the overhanging branches falls in your garden it still belongs to the owner.

You are allowed to clip any branches up to the boundary but you must give the lopped branches to your neighbour. If you are the owner of the tree you must ask your neighbour’s permission before going round to cut back your tree or collect fallen fruit.

Get to the Root of the Matter

Many people might be surprised to find out that tree roots that encroach onto neighbouring land are trespassing and your neighbour has the right to cut the roots back to the boundary line. Roots can cause damage if they grow under foundations or driveways and if the damage is substantial you could end up in court.

A Crown suit is more serious than a civil suit as it involves going to Crown Court, which deals with criminal offences. You can be subject to a heavy fine if it is found that you did not act to prevent damage to your neighbour’s property caused by your tree roots.

To avoid things going this far it’s always best to reach an understanding with your neighbour and contain the roots either yourself or with the help of a tree surgeon. If you are thinking of planting a tree, ensure that it has enough room to grow within the boundaries of your own garden.

Garden Chemicals and Toxins

Garden chemicals such as weed killers and insecticides are safe to keep as long as they are stored in a dark cool place and well out of the reach of children and animals. Keep powdered chemicals above liquid ones to avoid liquid leaking onto granulated products. There are a number of chemicals that have been withdrawn and you may possess surplus stocks of pesticides that you are no longer legally allowed to keep. For a full list visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s website.

Any old chemical products should be disposed of through your local waste authority. You can contact your council who will advise you where to take garden chemicals. Never throw any toxic products down the drain. Rinse any empty containers thoroughly and dispose of them along with your household waste.

Bonfires and Barbecues

There is no law against bonfires or barbecues but the smoke emanating from them can be considered a statutory nuisance and can be dealt with under the environmental protection act 1990. You would have to barbecue and have a bonfire on a fairly regular basis, however, for it to be taken seriously.

Whatever your garden issues it pays to talk to your neighbour and resolve the problem amicably. Inform yourself and know your rights and only if all else fails should you consult a solicitor.