What to do when neighbour’s trees overhang on your property.

In terms of our law, every person or every neighbour, for that matter, has a right to unimpeded enjoyment of his land. This right, means that a neighbour’s health, well-being or comfort in the occupation of his land must not be interfered with.

A very common problem in neighbour relations is trees on a property causing nuisance to the adjacent property.

The boundaries between your properties mark where your rights end and your neighbours’ begin. Knowledge of each others’ rights and obligations is the first step in establishing a good relationship with your neighbours and enjoying your rights to the full.

If branches of a tree growing on an adjoining property overhang your property, you may ask your neighbour to saw them off and remove them from your property. If your request is refused, you may saw the branches off yourself to the extent that they overhang, although you may not keep them unless your neighbour refuses to collect them. You may then recover from your neighbour the reasonable expense of removing the branches. Alternatively, you may force your neighbour to remove the offending branches by obtaining an interdict, compelling him or her to do so.

Usually you can’t complain if leaves from a neighbour’s tree fall onto your property. The planting of trees is held to be a natural and ordinary use of land, however close to a boundary they may be. Even if damage is caused by leaves from your neighbour’s trees blocking your gutters, you cannot claim damagesI, since it has been held in court that damage of this kind can be prevented by routine cleaning of the gutters, a normal and inexpensive act of maintenance. If leaves, branches, flowers or fruit fall from your neighbour’s tree onto your property, you cannot force your neighbour to remove them. You may demand the removal of roots that encroach on your property, whether beneath the ground or on the surface, or you may remove them yourself. If the roots have damaged your property, you may insist that they be removed and you may claim compensation for the damage they caused.

Unless restricted by a servitude, your neighbour may erect buildings or grow trees on his or her property that obstruct your view or block out the sunlight that you would otherwise receive.

There is, however, an important limitation upon the right of a neighbour to build structures or grow trees that block out your light or create a mess on your property: if your neighbour does so, not in the enjoyment of his or her own property, but rather with the improper motive of causing a nuisance to you, you may be entitled to claim compensation or even to obtain an interdict compelling him or her to remove the offending structures or trees.