HIGH hedges, overhanging trees and unwanted house extensions are among the biggest triggers of neighbourhood disputes, according to a leading North East lawyer.

Ursula Collie, Litigation Solicitor at Durham-based EMG Solicitors which specialises in probate, trusts and land disputes, said that most disputes between neighbours are sparked by greenery and extensions.

The firm has highlighted the main issues which can cause tension – and has offered a range of solutions to stop the problems from escalating.

During the summer months, tension can escalate as people spend more time outdoors, with the main gripe being high trees or big buildings blocking the sunlight.

“We find that issues like overhanging branches are a cause of friction, particularly in the summer,” said Ursula.

“A lot of the time problems can be dealt with simply by having a chat with your neighbour, but all too often things can get out of hand so it’s worth trying to get an understanding of the law to find out who is in the right and what you can do if you have a genuine case.”

If the problem is as simple as overhanging branches, the self-help principle allows you to cut them down, said the solicitor.

“These cut branches belong to your neighbour and you are meant to offer them back,” she added.

“It is sometimes said you are allowed to throw the cut branches back over on to your neighbour’s side – this may be legally correct but it will probably annoy your neighbour.”

Fast-growing Leylandii have long been a cause for dispute, due to the speed and height they can grow to.

If a neighbour has at least two evergreen trees over 2m high and they are blocking light, the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 allows residents to ask the local authority for a remedial notice.

“Roots from large trees can be problematic as they can cause subsidence in clay soils by drawing out the moisture. The same self-help rule applies here, although it is advisable to get an arboriculturalist involved,” said Ursula.

House extensions are another problem, with neighbours often concerned about how a new building will affect their property or views.

The Party Wall Act 1996 features a procedure for neighbours jointly to appoint a surveyor who will visit the property and sort out any points of contention.

The Land Registry should be the first port of call if you have a dispute over the boundary line, although the rules under the Land Registration Act 2002 can be confusing and it is advisable to speak to a solicitor to clear up any confusion.

Ursula adds that one of the biggest concerns come from homeowners whose neighbours plan an extension which will block their view and make their home dark.

“Unfortunately there is no legal right to a view, but if your kitchen windows have been in existence for over 20 years, your property has a right to light through them and you might be able to use this to negotiate an alteration in the neighbour’s plans.

“Everyone’s circumstances are different and we would always urge them to seek legal advice with a trusted solicitor. Many times these things can be sorted out before they get out of hand.”

Along with expertise in trusts, Wills, probate and land disputes, EMG Solicitors specialise in family law, conveyancing and personal injury. For further information visit www.emgsolicitors.com