Neighbouring Trees and Building Subsidence

17 July 2019

When you're buying a new home there are a lot of factors to think about, so it's unlikely to have even crossed your mind to look beyond the boundaries of the house in question. But it's important that you do. If your neighbours have large trees which are in close proximity to your new house, then you should investigate whether this could cause any damage to your house in the future.

If one of your neighbours grows or cuts down a tree in their garden, this can alter the structure of the surrounding soil which can, in turn, cause damage to your property. We explain the structural implications of planting or removing trees and what your rights are if your property is affected by your neighbour planting, removing or failing to maintain trees on their land.

A common belief is that it's the roots of a tree which cause of damage to property foundations, but this is not usually the case as normal tree roots cannot penetrate through concrete. Instead, it is that the tree's presence will alter the water content and structure of the soil, which in turn can cause foundations to shift and crack. A change to the state of the soil, for whatever reason can directly impact on a building's structural integrity.

The bigger a tree is, the greater an impact it will have on the makeup of the surrounding soil. The closer a tree is to a building, the greater the possibility is of the foundations being affected by the tree's presence.

Growing Trees

If your neighbour has a large tree in their garden which is close to your property, then this will be directly affecting the makeup of the soil around it, including the soil that your house's foundations sit on. The larger the tree grows, the closer the roots will reach towards your property and the thirstier the tree will become.

The result of this is that the tree will suck all of the moisture out of the ground, causing the soil to shrink down, potentially leaving sections of the building foundations unsupported, causing movement and cracking. This is subsidence.

Cutting Down Trees

If your neighbour has a large tree on their land which they decide to cut down, this can also have a detrimental effect on your property. A large tree can suck up thousands of litres of water every year (depending on the type of tree it is). If the tree is cut down, the roots will stop absorbing water, meaning that all of this excess water now stays in the ground. This can cause the ground to swell and push upwards – a process known as 'heave.'

Heave is the opposite of subsidence, but can be just as damaging, causing building foundations to crack and deform as they are put under a huge amount of pressure from below.

Your Rights as a Homeowner

If your property is damaged by the presence or removal of a tree on neighbouring land, then your neighbour could be held liable for this by the Court, under a nuisance claim.

If you are concerned about a tree on a neighbouring property, your first approach should be to discuss this with the neighbour. If they believe that there is a risk of their tree damaging your property then it's likely that they will want to take steps to avoid this, instead of having to face far more serious consequences further down the line.

You can also instruct a qualified arborist to come and make an assessment of the tree and any existing damage, to verify whether or not the tree is the cause of this damage.

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