My next-door neighbour of 20 years has allowed his hedge and trees — which are entirely on his side — to grow from 6ft to 25ft in height, thereby darkening our livingroom. When approached on the subject, he maintains it secures his privacy and is not prepared to reduce their height or discuss the matter further. However he has created two 5ft x 5ft wide openings at garden level which impinge on our own privacy. Can anything be done?
The question of hedge heights and the restriction of natural light to their homes causes upset and distress to many people. With an increasing number of people living in urban areas, the issue has become problematic and has led to Dáil questions.
The unfortunate news is that there is no legislation in Ireland dealing specifically with hedge heights or subsequent loss of light. Proposed legislation, as reported in recent years, has not materialised to date. Practitioners who deal with issues relating to boundary hedges eagerly await regulation as there are very limited options to residents who are distressed due to overgrown hedges and insensitive neighbours.
The only direct remedial action you are entitled to take is to cut the branches overhanging your property at the boundary line. You would also be entitled to cut the portion of the roots in your property, but this is inadvisable as you would be liable if, as a result, the hedge became unstable and caused damage. Any part of the overhanging trees cut by you must be offered back to your neighbour.
In relation to the 5ft x 5ft openings, you are entitled to plant trees or shrubs or place screens on your side of these openings to protect your privacy.
On the substantive issue of hedge heights, you may be able to make a case for legal action if you can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that you enjoyed a reasonable level of natural light to your residence for a period of 20 years and that the growth of your neighbour’s hedge has caused an unacceptable deterioration in the level of natural light entering your residence. This would require evidence such as dated photographs and, if possible, recorded levels of natural light in the rooms affected.
In view of the difficulties outlined, your best option may be to maintain good relations with your neighbour. Approach him at a future date and ask him to look at it from your side and try to involve him in proposing a solution or a compromise.
Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor and chartered civil engineer